by Steffen Maier |
Last week I discussed the value of one-on-one meetings and how a manager should prepare for them to ensure the greatest benefit to both parties involved. This week, I'm going to look at what steps a manager should take during the meeting itself -- what topics to discuss and what steps to take after the one-on-one. 
As the manager, you should take the lead to set up an informal tone for the meetings. Focus on asking questions and listening attentively to understand the feedback. Don't forget to wrap up each meeting and prepare for the next.

Keep it Informal

Keep your one-on-one informal and private. It is best to find a relaxing place where you can hold a private conversation. Some ideas are to go for a walk, to have a coffee in the neighborhood cafe, or to talk over lunch.

Ask Questions

It is a good habit to prepare some questions you want to ask. When conversations come to a certain topic -- such as work habits or personal learning -- you can use the questions to get the more feedback from your team.

A well-asked question is a powerful tool because there are so many things one does not think of sharing until being ask. As mentioned earlier, one-on-ones can be about almost anything. However, there are some common topics that managers like to cover. Here is a list.

1. Work habits

You want to understand how each of your team members operates. Once you learn their productive modes, you can support them to work more efficiently. Questions you can ask are: Which part of the day do you feel most productive? When do you feel that your energy and focus are at the lowest level? What are the changes that can be made so you can take the best out of a work day? What were your biggest time wasters or roadblocks last week or the week before? What do you do when you get stuck on something? What is your process of getting unstuck? Who is the team member you turn to for help?

2. Team collaboration and relations

You can increase team productivity by improving the interpersonal relationships between team members. Ask the right questions to uncover the hidden challenges and opportunities: Who inspires you in the team? Whose opinions do you respect? What have they done? Is there anybody in the team that you find it difficult to work with? Can you tell me why? What do you think about the amount of feedback in our team? When do others give feedback to you? Would you like to hear more feedback from other team member and me? What do you think would help us work together better? Any suggestions for improvement in the way we work together?

3. Team's happiness

Personal happiness has an undeniable impact on productivity and engagement. When is a better time to dig into a happiness issue than a one-on-one conversation? Grab the opportunity so you can help your team be happier at work. Ask questions such as: Are you happy working here? Are you happy with your recent work? Why or why not? What keeps you engaged with your daily work? What can I do to help make daily tasks more engaging? What kind of projects do you enjoy working on? What motivates you to work on a project? Can you name three things we can do to help so you can enjoy your job more? What is the best accomplishment you had since you are here? Do you feel appreciated for it? What are the things that worry you? Anything on your mind? Have you ever felt undervalued here? Why?

4. Short-term goals

Your team's feedback on their short-term goals will keep you aligned with their progress as well as their frustrations on the projects. It is healthy to address frustrations timely. Ask some questions, like: How is the project going? What can we do to help? What are the main bottlenecks? Can we do anything to move it along? What are the projects you would be interested in working on next?

5. Long-term goals

Long-term goals are important to a person's sense of fulfillment and happiness. Your team members like to see that they are making progress toward their big life goals. You want to learn about their goals, and whether their current job fits into those goals. Some questions you can use: What do you want to achieve in the next three years? How do you think about your progress on your big goals? What needs to be done to move towards the goals? What can we do to help? Which part of the work here do you feel as most relevant to your long-term goals? What kinds of projects do you want to take part in to move toward your goals?

6. Personal development

You want to find out if your team members take learning and development the same way as you do. To help you learn more about their motivation, consider questions such as: Do you feel like you are learning at work? What are the new things you learned lately? What are the areas you want to learn about? Whom in the team do you want to learn from? Whom do you get valuable feedback from?

7. Manager improvement

It is crucial for you to know how your team thinks about you and your management style. It is challenging to get honest feedback specifically about you from a direct report. Set the right tone and choose your questions wisely. For example: What can I do as a manager to make your work easier? What do you like about my management style? What do you dislike? What is the percentage of my involvement in your daily tasks? Would you prefer more or less? How can I support you better?

Listen Actively

You should listen to each employee's insight carefully. It is important to remember that you don't just listen to be polite. You want to really understand what is being shared. Active listening involves: 

Asking clarifying questions, something like: "Let me know if I got you right. Do you mean that you would rather see me being less involved in your daily task?"

Paraphrasing giver's view, such as: "So you are saying that I should give you more autonomy in making decision regarding your daily tasks."

Acknowledging their feelings, for example:" I understand your strong feeling about your independence at work."

Clarifying questions and reaffirmation bring you closer to what is being expressed. By showing your recognition and respect toward one's feeling, you are to build a stronger relationship with your team.

Wrap Up and Suggest Next Moves

At the end of the meeting, you should wrap up the talking points. It is also essential to suggest an action plan till the next meeting.

After the Meeting

Make notes about the discussion points and the action plan. If you have done this already during the meeting, log it on your note system. You want to make sure you can easily review the items and act on what is needed. Make sure you do the legwork before the next meeting. Also, remember to make it happen for the next meeting! Like we said earlier, it is very important to keep one-on-ones going.


One-on-ones are a great tool for managers and employees. The weekly sessions are for you to check in on the team's morale. They are also about getting to know the people you are working with better. You can also save one-on-ones for higher-level things like career development and continuous learning. Employee's feedback is extremely important for managers. Effective one-on-ones are one of the best ways to seek for feedback (as well as giving it). Learn to do one-on-ones the right way so you can get your employees engaged and let them know that you value them.

Steffen Maier is co-founder of Impraise, a web-based and mobile solution for actionable, timely feedback at work. Based in New York and Amsterdam, Impraise turns tedious annual performance reviews into an easy process by enabling users to give and receive valuable feedback in real-time and when it's most helpful. The tool includes an extensive analytics platform to analyze key strengths and predict talent gaps and coaching needs. Follow him @stgmaier.