How can I make my 1 on 1 meetings with employees less awkward?

Written by Lorraine Medici

Shot of smart business people working together with laptop while talking in the coworking place.

Many leaders will tell me how they never quite know how to get a 1 on 1 meeting started. They either feel they have to do all the talking or find themselves asking, “Is there anything you want to talk about?” with a usual response of, “No, I’m good.” Consequently, there’s very little engagement and nothing is really discovered which may need to be addressed.

Why they’re critical

If you’re not holding consistent 1 on 1 meetings with your people, you are missing out on opportunities and issues. A 1 on 1 should not be used as a reactive measure but as a maintenance measure. In other words, it’s not a tool for only giving feedback when something has gone wrong, but is multi-faceted to handle things such as:

  • Bring new information, instructions or directions to a project
  • Offer positive or corrective feedback on performance or a behavioral issue
  • Celebrate and recognize job/project or task well done
  • Listen and ask questions around issues or concerns your team member has
  • Listen and ask questions around what motivates them
  • Listen and ask questions where there is confidence in their job or lack thereof.
  • Listen and watch for high and low energy around certain tasks/responsibilities
  • Ask for feedback from your team member as to how you’re doing

What they’re not

These are just some of the benefits of a 1 on 1 and additionally, consistency is vital. It surprises me every time I ask leaders in Purpose-Driven Leadership Training“Do you hold 1 on 1 meetings with your people and if you do, how often?” The former question lends to answers like, “only, when necessary,” or “I do them every day in a huddle” or “once a year during our performance review.” If you’re only holding 1 on 1s “when necessary” which typically means something has happened, your team members will see them as a punitive measure. If you’re doing them “every day in a huddle” that’s not a 1 on 1; that’s a tool to start the day on the right foot with setting expectations and other important instructions and is usually done with the team. If you’re “holdingthem during performance reviews” – again, that’s a performance review, not a 1 on 1 meeting.


So, how often should I hold a 1 on 1?

It depends. If you have new team members, you may have to meet with them once a week or even more frequently to check in. If it is someone who is more seasoned, you could meet once every two to three weeks with the longest stretch being monthly. Much longer than that and things fall through the cracks – upset feelings, not feeling connected, not motivated, not seeing wins, etc. Depending on the level of experience and knowledge of your team member can guide the frequency.

A 1 on 1 should be a set time between 15 min – 1 hour depending on the team member’s position to address bullet points mentioned earlier. It’s a time to connect, engage, listen and assess what is going on with your team member.

Who is responsible for the 1 on 1?

The team member is. Surprised? I understand why you might be surprised because 1 on 1s have generally been the responsibility of the leader which puts the onus on the leader. Don’t get me wrong, the leader is very much involved but what is discussed should begin with the team member.

You may have to re-introduce 1 on 1s with your team members by explaining the time is theirs to talk about any issues, questions, or wins they want to bring to the 1 on 1.  We have included a form like to use in our trainings at Frontline Training Solutions  is easy to navigate and empowers the team member to think about what they want to bring to the meeting and what they are looking for from you, the leader.

Basically, the top part of the form has three columns:

  1. The first column allows the team member to write out up to three topics they would like to talk about.
  2. The second column gives the team member leadership options they need from you – everywhere from explaining/telling to just giving you an update.
  3. The third column is about action steps that need to be taken based on the conversation of the topic you are having with your team member.

There may be some follow-up or new direction that needs to be taken and now the team member can note this. On the next 1 on 1, you have an opportunity to readdress the action steps which builds in ownership and responsibility for their performance and/or behavior.

The bottom section is driven by the leader. Again, you will see columns which allow you to bring something to the meeting, action items that need to be taken and the due date for those action items. Again, a great tool for responsibility and self-accountability.

Final Thoughts

This is a great time to start re-evaluating your 1 on 1 process and the opportunity to make them more effective and beneficial for both yourself as the leader and your team member.

Remember the why of having them. Their primary purpose is to stay in the know of what your team member is working through, connecting, engaging, listening and assessing. Secondly, find an appropriate frequency to hold 1 on 1s depending on the position, skill, knowledge and tenure of your team member. Third, give your people a tool in which they can take control of their 1 on 1s and have ownership and responsibility over them. We encourage you to watch our free webinar called. Mastering One-on-Ones, check out some of our training programs that discuss this topic like Purpose Driven Leadership Training, or contact us to strategize on making your 1 on 1s more effective and less awkward.


Below, you will find an example of a form you can use for productive 1-1’s.

Start Your Training Today

Trusted by professionals just like you.

About the Author

Lorraine Medici

Lorraine Medici

Lorraine Medici joined Express Employment Professionals in 2014 as the Director of Training and Development.  Lorraine has extensive experience as a coach and workshop facilitator in the areas of leadership and team building, working closely with companies to strategize solutions that will impact long-term results in engagement and retention. She has successfully launched  Purpose-Driven Leadership Training , a series targeted at helping develop managers and leaders at all levels in manufacturing and other industries. Additionally, she facilitates the on-going training series,  Breakfast with Purpose, to bring current and relevant education to organizations. As a professional development coach, Lorraine also works alongside leaders and teams to overcome interpersonal or performance challenges. She is certified to train DISC, Situational Leadership and Emotional Intelligence (EQi 2.0), and an Associate Certified Coach and Master Practitioner for the ELI Assessment.