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A Better One-on-One Now

A few years ago I was given the National Geographic book Rarely Seen: Photographs of the Extraordinary. The pages are a visual smorgasbord that fill a reader with wonder. I viewed pages of photos of rare places, natural wonders, unique events, and animals that are the last of their species. These are things that are amazing and seen by very few of us.

Much like the often conducted and rarely well executed one-on-one meeting between a boss and an employee: amazing and not experienced by very many.

Yet the one-on-one meeting is one of the most frequently used management practices is the workplace today. Whether it is conducted in person, via Skype/Zoom/GoToMeeting or over the phone, the on-on-one meeting is an effective way for the boss to get to know their employee and for employee to perform more effectively in their job and be developed.

The goal of the one-on-one is for a manager to discuss four key areas:

  • Current status and progress
  • Obstacles, challenges, and problems
  • Feedback and coaching
  • Possible career development

I have found that few managers really understand the strategic usefulness of the one-on-one meeting. They are often too focused on getting work done themselves and as a result the one-on-one gets short shrift.


  • Effective one-on-one meetings have a regular schedule (at least once a month and at most once a week).


  • One-on-one meetings are not seen as taking anyone away from work. They are part of the fabric of effective work.


  • The one-on-one meeting is based on the employee’s needs, not the manager’s needs.


  • The one-on-one meeting gets the full attention of both participants. No calls, texts, email, or computer screen.

For those readers who bemoan the fact that their manager won’t read this article and they can’t forward it and suggest that they do, I have some thoughts about what can be done:

1) Not a Status Updates.
One-on-one meetings are not status updates conducted in person. Provide your boss with your status updates at another time.  You can do it via email, in a stand-up meeting, in a huddle, or a tool like Trello, IDoneThis, Slack or StandUpJank.

2) Bring Topics/Issues/Concerns You Want to Talk About 
You can create an agenda of things you want to discuss. It can be issues that have come up since your last meeting or concerns that you want to prepare for in the future. Don’t allow the one-on-one to be a waste of time.

3) No Cancelations – Ask to Reschedule 
Everyone is busy and your boss may be tempted to focus on work deadlines instead of developing you. Breaking the rhythm of the regular meeting can create a backup of issues you want to talk about. Letting things go too long can actually create additional problems. Don’t let your boss off the hook and try to cram two meetings worth of interaction into the next meeting. Reschedule as soon as you can. Suggest a few alternative dates/times.

One-on-one meetings are not coaching sessions.

In a coaching engagement, an individual can share concerns, fears, and ambitions. That’s not always easy to do with a boss. Who tells the boss that they are afraid that starting a family or going back for an additional degree might negatively impact their focus at work? How do you tell your boss you feel more like the errand boy/handmaiden than a valued employee being developed for the next possible promotion?

Rather than trying to fulfill the role themselves, managers can make a coach available to employees. There might have been a time when the boss served as coach and mentor, but that doesn’t happen as much today. Not every manager has the skills or the ability to develop into an effective coach.

If you want to put the right and best emphasis on your one-on-one meetings, think clearly about the goals for those conversations. The focus of a one-on-one meeting with a manager should be on the value offered by the employee to the organization and the value offered by the organization to the employee. The best way to insure that this two-way street is supported and improved upon may very well be to offer employees coaching by a designated coach (within the organization (though not the boss) or outside the organization). That way, the professional network grows and the flow of information and professional development does too.

Working toward creating a more effective one-on-one meeting is like the photographer who manages to snap the amazing picture of the rarely seen, extraordinary subject: definitely possible if you are in the right place at the right time, and have the right tools.

If you are a boss or have a boss, you are in the right place. If you have a say in crafting your own schedule, you can create the right time. Contact me so I can help you develop the right skills.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 10th, 2017 at 1:03 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.