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Making the Most Out of One-On-One’s With Employees

By: | March 25, 2019 10 min read

There Are Two Things That Come To My Mind When I Think Of One-On-One Meetings.

It’s either an event that employees really look forward to or it is an event that employees dread to participate in. It is obviously better if it is the first one. But to achieve a level of genuine interest in participation from the employee, managers and leaders need to take care of a lot of no-so-little elements in their interactions with their team members.

One-on-one’s are a great way for facilitating open conversations between managers and employees. But these cannot be treated as impromptu sessions taken at will. Both the parties need to know the agenda of the meeting, and the manager in particular needs to be well prepared with the set of questions. It is critical that managers make the most of these interactions, as they will play a crucial role in understanding what the employee is experiencing in the company.

Being a manager is a role that comes with great responsibility. When one is at a level in an organization where they manage others, who in turn manage more people, the behavior, attitude and actions of that person can have exponential effects. The way a manager deals with issues can improve or hurt his team, and the same values will also trickle down to the bottom. This is what Gallup defines as the Cascade effect in their “State of the American Manager” report.

The study conducted found that managers who worked for engaged leaders are 39% more likely to be engaged. And employees who work for engaged managers are 59% more likely to be engaged. So it is a two-way street. Unfortunately, this does not happen in a structured manner in most organizations which is why the benefits of one-on-one’s often go unachieved.

Regular one-on-ones are important and they need to be treated like a responsibility, rather than a weekly task that needs to be ticked off the list. Everyone is hard pressed for time, but through such initiatives, employee engagement indices can actually take a positive spin.

“I feel that a one-on-one should last an hour at minimum. Anything less, in my experience, tends to make the subordinate confine himself to simple things that can be handled quickly.”

~ Andy Grove, former CEO and Co-founder, Intel

The most important task to accomplish for managers before the one-on-one is to do a thorough research on what the employee has been handling and going through in the last couple of weeks. This requires careful observation and putting oneself in the employee’s shoes to focus. This would entail preparing open-ended questions and be listening intently to what the employee has to say. Taking a step back and not trying to dominate the conversation with too much advice or judgments is a must. At the same time, be active to understand where the employee is himself asking for some guidance.

While doing this homework is important, being too formal and strict about issues can also make one-on-ones lose its informal essence. The conversation should be free-flowing while knowing what to discuss the whole time on the manager’s part. The mindset needs to be one where it is a relaxed conversation with no hurry or deadlines to meet. Doing this outside the office premises might also be a good idea, like a coffee shop, or while taking a walk.

Here are some questions that can be asked about some overarching topics:

Office Culture

These questions are important to understand the health of the workplace from a cultural perspective.

  • Are you happy with what you have been doing here?
  • What is it that you like the most about the company?
  • How do we think we can improve?
  • Are you aware of what our core organizational values are?
  • What do you not like about working here?
  • What is the one thing you would like to change?
  • Is there anything that is making you less productive?
  • How can we make our team meetings more effective?
  • What do you like the most about our culture?
  • How can we make our company more creative and innovative?
  • What is an inexpensive thing we can do to improve our work environment?
  • Do you feel comfortable in this office space?


These questions can be a great way to encourage employees to highlight openly about the hardships that they might have been facing.

  • How do you plan your work?
  • How successful do you think you have been in achieving your goals?
  • Do you think you are playing your A-game?
  • How can I help you in doing your job better?
  • What obstacles do you face?
  • What are the areas you want to improve on?
  • What are the areas that you would like to learn more about?
  • Is what you’re doing in alignment with your long-term goals?
  • Is that anything that is bothering you?
  • Do you feel underworked or overworked?
  • Do you think there are meetings or discussions you feel you should be a part of that you’re not?
  • Are you included in meetings you don’t want to be a part of?

Short-Term Goals

These are the goals that need to be accomplished in the current month or quarter.

  • How is the current project going?
  • What are the challenges you are facing?
  • What are the resources that we could provide you with to achieve better results?
  • Are there any other projects you would like to work on?
  • Are you clear about what is expected?
  • Is there any part of your job that you might want some formal training in?

Team Relations

If team dynamics are not set right, productivity levels are bound to get affected. As a manager, you should ask about team relations in your one-on-ones.

  • Are you happy with the current team?
  • Who do you have the most difficulty working with? Why?
  • How would you define the dynamics between the team members?
  • Do you think your team members are supportive?
  • Who do you look up to in your team?
  • Do you help other members of your team?
  • Do you get the support you desire?
  • What is the biggest thing you would like to change our team?
  • What is the best part of this team?
  • Has anyone on this team ever made you uncomfortable?
  • Who would you like to work with more often and why?
  • How do you think we can improve the way we work?

Like already mentioned, one-on-one’s cannot be a spontaneous or unplanned affair. It is extremely important that there is good preparation done before the meeting. There also needs to be a good sense of awareness that puts the employee at the center of the discussion, without trying to take over. The end goal should be to get a good picture of what improvements are needed to get more engaged employees. It will help managers get a good view of what’s happening and also take actions to keep the morale of employees high.

One-on-ones can be a great way to extend support to not just selected employees, but to each and every one in the organization. Not interacting with employees on a regular basis is almost as bad as making them feel abandoned and expecting them to be miraculously productive. With such in-depth interest in the employee’s life, they will also feel cared for. Effective on-on-one’s are the best ways to seek feedback, learn about improvements and feel valued. This will have a huge impact on the entire team.

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    Meet the author

    Keka Editorial Team

    A bunch of inspired, creative and ambitious youngsters- that’s Keka’s editorial team for you. We have a thirst to learn new subjects and curate diverse pieces for our readers. Our deep understanding and knowledge of Human Resources has enabled us to answer almost every question pertaining to this department. If not seen finding ways to simplify the HR world, they can be found striking conversations with anyone and everyone , petting dogs, obsessing over gadgets, or baking cakes.


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