5 Tips for Getting 1-on-1s Back On Track

In order for 1-on-1s to be as effective as possible, we recommend both the manager and direct report share in advance the topics they wish to discuss. This creates shared expectations between both parties.

Sometimes 1-on-1 discussions can go off the rails a bit. Maybe a direct report has a negative comment or disagrees with you on a topic. Other times they may bring up a topic you weren’t prepared to discuss. Even the best preparation can be derailed by an unexpected discussion. 

But that’s no reason to fear 1-on-1s! Healthy discussion is imperative for building and strengthening the manager-employee relationship. 

Here are our top 5 simple tips for helping you keep your meetings on track and productive:

  1.  Listen

    This seems obvious, but simply hearing out the employee is meaningful. Sometimes an employee just needs to vent or get something off their chest. If the employee disagrees with you, listen to their point of view instead of becoming defensive. Listening shows respect, which is an important foundation to a healthy relationship.

  2. Agree on an end objective

    Every 1-on-1 should have a desired outcome determined by what you and your direct report want to discuss, such as goal progress and priorities moving forward, development opportunities, questions or concerns, or simply aligning and staying connected. If the conversation begins to curve, remind the employee of the original objective and assess whether you can get back on track. For instance, “I noticed we keep coming back to this same issue. Should we dig into the topic further to better understand it and schedule more time to discuss our original topic?” Or, “I know we wanted to agree on priorities for the upcoming quarter. Should we keep today’s conversation focused there and revisit the other topic during our next 1-on-1?” You may need to adapt and agree on a new end objective. In some scenarios, it’s OK for the end goal to be listening to the employee and understanding his or her point of view.
  3.  Recap what you’re hearing

    Don’t let the meeting end with any confusion. Ensure that both parties leave the 1-on-1 with a clear understanding of what was discussed and what the outcome should be. Restate the top points of the conversation and ask if the employee agrees.

  4. Determine next steps

    Ultimately, a 1-on-1 is not just about recapping what’s happened in the past, but also what to focus on moving forward. Leave the meeting with clear steps that both you and the direct report can take. Occasionally this can be reconvening once you’ve had time to reflect on the conversation or rescheduling the 1-on-1 if you weren’t able to cover the original agenda topics.

  5. Prepare for future 1-on-1s

    A 1-on-1 conversation going differently than planned doesn’t mean every 1-on-1 will follow suit. Continue to share what you’d like to discuss prior to upcoming 1-on-1s and ask your employees to do the same. This promotes productive, healthy discussions that are a good use of everyone’s time.