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How to Have Better One-on-One Meetings

Leaders and managers often struggle with making one-on-one meetings meaningful and beneficial. You don't want to over structure the time, leaving it feeling awkward or forced; you also don't want to go into the meeting with no plan at all - a sure-fire way to waste everyone's time. Drawing on social science research* we've found that using a semi-structured format can help strike the perfect balance.

The recommended structure below is based on a 30-minute meeting (give or take 5 minutes):

Check-In - 5 minutes - Do a general check-in. This is the time for causal small talk and general banter (how was the weekend, etc.). Each person should share for a few minutes, and then move on.

Work Review - 10 minutes - Review work progress since the last meeting (progress on action steps outlined at the last meeting, updates on an assigned project, any major milestones and/or achievements, any issues or concerns, etc.)

Coaching/Guidance - 10 - 15 minutes - Take this time to provide constructive feedback or guidance the employee can use in the coming week(s). This could be skill-practice (e.g. role playing an upcoming presentation) or providing instruction on a key area. This should be used as a time to mentor and educate the employee, promoting their growth and professional development.

Wrap-Up - 5 minutes - Spend the remaining time briefly summarizing the meeting and identifying clear action steps for the employee to work on until the next meeting. Avoid vague goals such as "do better with responding to email;" rather make a clear directive, such as "respond to emails within 1 business day."

While it isn't necessary to adhere to these exact time frames for every meeting, adhering to the general guidelines will promote a productive session. The structure helps encourage dialogue and feedback, while preventing a spiral into non-productive chatting or venting.


*Ryan M. Labrecque & Paula Smith (2017) Does Training and Coaching Matter? An 18-Month Evaluation of a Community Supervision Model


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