Effective 1-on-1 Meetings: Sample Agenda, Questions + Tips

Many managers do not run effective 1-on-1s, but they can be crucial to an employee’s success. A lot of the time, managers simply don’t know where to start with a 1-on-1. So, we’ve compiled our best tips on running a 1-on-1 meeting, with a sample 1-on-1 agenda and questions.

1-on-1 Meetings: What’s the purpose of a 1-on-1?

1-on-1s are an employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting. This is the free-form meeting for the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms. Employees should set the agenda and send it to the manager in advance. An easy way to set the agenda is by utilizing the 5:15 format on a weekly basis. Aren’t using 5:15s? Learn more about 5:15s and how they can help you as a leader.

If you aren’t using the 5:15 format on a weekly basis, these three simple prompts can cover a wide variety of topics. This can serve as the agenda and should be sent by the employee to the manager the business day before the 1-on-1.

  1. Gut check
    • How’s it going? 10 = Couldn’t be better. 1 = I’m going to quit. Why?
  2. Issues/Problems/Open Items
  3. Notables (free-form with context)

1-on-1 Meeting Tips

As a manager, it’s important to remember these tips:

  • This is your direct report’s time. Not the supervisor’s time.
  • The supervisor should discover: What are they dealing with? What obstacles can I help them remove?
  • This is an open forum, a time for venting (if needed).
  • However, both manager and employee should go out with their “game face” on, even if there is disagreement in the meeting.
  • 1-on-1s are not as much about key metrics, but are an open dialogue.
  • The manager needs to push the employee for the agenda.
  • A direct report can cancel 1, but not 2 1-on-1s. This is very important. This emphasizes this is a priority for the business and not to be missed.
  • During the 1-on-1, the employee will highlight the most important points. It’s the manager’s job to draw out issues from the employee.
  • The 1-on-1s should be short, focused and happen on a regular basis. Typically 30 minutes long and every-other-week.

Great 1-on-1 Meeting Questions

As mentioned, the employee should be setting the agenda. However, you may need to start asking questions to get to the root of the employee’s thoughts, frustrations and ideas. Here are a couple questions for your next 1-on-1.

If we could improve in any way, how would we do it?

What’s the No. 1 problem with our organization? Why?

What’s not fun about working here?

Who is really kicking ass in the company? Who do you admire?

If you were me, what changes would you make?

What don’t you like about the product?

What’s the biggest opportunity that we’re missing out on?

What are we not doing that we should be doing?

Are you happy working here?

How often should I have 1-on-1s?

This is a very common question. It all depends on the needs of the business and the level of maturity of your direct reports. Most CEOs have 1-on-1s at least every other week. Many have 1-on-1s every single week.

Typically, the rule is that an employee can cancel 1-on-1, but can’t cancel two. This shows the level of importance you place on 1-on-1s. Want to learn more about this philosophy? Learn how one CEO treats his 1-on-1s.


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