One-to-Ones: How Managers Can Use Them to Improve Team Performance

September 22, 2021

Two women having a one-to-one meeting

Google’s multi million dollar research into teamwork revealed that the highest-performing teams shared one commonality above all else: psychological safety. That is the belief that you won’t be punished when you inevitably make a mistake.

By creating a work environment in which everyone feels safe to take risks, team members can voice their opinions and ask judgment-free questions. Opinions and questions that can really help to drive better performance outcomes.

But for this to happen, managers need to start with each individual team member. More specifically, they need to be meeting with each of their direct reports on a regular basis, using this time to strengthen their working relationships, build trust, and develop them through continuous feedback conversations.

Ultimately, they need to be conducting regular one-to-one meetings.

In this article, we’re going to cover what one-to-one meetings are, share best practice tips for optimizing these manager-employee meetings, and provide three different one-to-one meeting examples that managers can use to improve team performance.

What are one-to-one meetings?

One to one meetings are regular meetings that take place between a manager and their direct reports.

In fact they offer a great platform for managers to have continuous feedback conversations, which ultimately helps aid employee development, identify issues, and eliminate roadblocks. They also help both parties to develop strong working relationships, which can also support improvements in psychological safety.  

One to one meetings are probably the single most important meeting managers can have, because unlike other meetings i.e. goal setting or team reviews, they’re a dedicated time at a regular cadence for team members and managers to communicate, to deliver mentoring, hold coaching conversations, or provide a safe space for venting.

How can one-to-ones improve team performance?

Regular one to one check-ins improve team performance by preventing larger issues from expanding further. They encourage regular and immediate feedback and provide a safe space for open conversation. 

And that is hands down the single most important aspect of a successful one to one - creating a safe space where team members are comfortable discussing whatever is bothering them personally or professionally. 

Because when managers create a psychologically safe space for one person, they create it for all team members. And psychological safety plays a huge part in improving team performance. 

Psychological safety results in increased confidence, trust, creativity and performance. A 2017 Gallup report revealed that increasing psychological safety resulted in employees more engaged in their work which led to a 12% increase in productivity.

How to have effective one-to-one meetings

Prepare in advance

Managers shouldn't overthink one to ones, their role in a one to one after all is to coach and support employees, not dominate the conversation. But without a proper framework or agenda for the one to one, the meeting is at risk of becoming just another meeting. 

Yes, the conversation needs to remain flexible enough to accommodate whatever the team member wants or needs to discuss.

But it can be useful to have a shared document or a one on one meeting agenda template, which both parties have access to, where they can each set meeting goals and expectations in advance. For example, outline what topics are up for discussion, such as goal progress, feedback, performance review, and even career aspirations.

Doing this helps both manager and team member prepare in advance for a more beneficial conversation.

Keep one-to-ones frequent and regular

Managers won’t create psychological safety in their team with a one-off one to one. They need to commit to having one-on-one meetings on a regular basis, and do everything they can to stick to a recurring schedule.

Managers should agree to a regular meeting cadence with team members and then add the recurring meeting into the shared calendar, helping cement it as a habit.

When one to ones occur with a regular cadence and with a structure that works best for both manager and team member, employees will know with certainty when they’ll be able to talk about whatever is on their mind. This can be very reassuring, showing them that support is available.

Set a time limit

No one likes a meeting that drags on, and the same applies for one-to-ones. The optimal time limit for each one to one meeting managers have with team members is of course up to them. But as a guide, the length of the meeting should also be dependent on the frequency of the meeting. 

As an example, if managers are holding these meetings on a weekly basis, 30 minutes should be more than sufficient time. However, if the one to one meetings are less frequent, such as once a month, an hour might be better. 

No one likes to feel rushed, but at the same time, dragging it out needlessly is also a waste of time. And one that can come at a great cost to the business.  

Follow up on the one-to-one

Make sure your managers aren’t simply ending the one to one with a ‘thank you, see you next week’. They need to create a summary of what was discussed and outline the key outcomes. 

Doing this reduces any instances of misunderstandings and encourages accountability for whatever was agreed upon. Both parties should also have a copy of the meeting notes.

Three types of one-to-one meetings (with meeting agendas)

Stop / Start / Carry On

The Stop / Start / Carry On one to one helps both managers and team members to quickly and easily review their performance and behaviors on a regular basis. 

It’s a two-way process designed to create the opportunity for an honest, positive and proactive discussion.

A Stop / Start / Carry On meeting agenda might look like:

  • Discuss and review the behaviors and activities with which the manager wishes the team member to carry on. 
  • Discuss and review the behaviors and activities the manager wishes the team member to start demonstrating or doing. 
  • Discuss and review the behaviors and activities which the manager wishes the team member to stop. 
  • Repeat the 3 talking points above, reversing the role of the manager and the team member.

Check-in on blockers

It’s important to check in with individual team members and learn what their specific blockers may be i.e. what is hindering them from reaching goals or causing frustrations.

Questions to ask during this type of one to one include:

  • Are you clear on your priorities for the next month?
  • What feels harder than it should be in your day to day work?
  • Is there anything slowing you down or side-tracking you?

Peer one-to-ones

One-to-one catch-ups aren’t just for managers. Depending on the size of the team, it can be beneficial to encourage team members to hold one to ones with one another. 

To check in on how people are feeling at work and also more generally. Life out of work changes. The arrival of a child. An illness in the family. A friend with troubles. All of these have a profound impact on us. That's normal - things change. 

To get the most value out of peer one to ones, have managers identify key relationships within the team where more trust would improve the team’s overall performance and encourage team members to get together and take turns to answer the below questions, or focus on just one person if that feels more fitting.

  • How's life? What's keeping you busy outside work?
  • How's work?
  • How have you found projects that you've been working on at work recently?
  • How do current work projects align with your natural strengths and motivations?

You can view and download even more one-to-one meeting agenda templates here.

How Saberr supports one-to-ones

Regular one-to-one meetings are crucial for improving performance, identifying and eliminating issues, and strengthening employee-manager relationships.

At Saberr, we not only facilitate these conversations, but we also help improve the quality of these conversations through the use of templated meeting agendas, interactive exercises, and smart tips, helping to drive better performance outcomes.

But that's not all we do.

As a digital coaching tool, we ultimately help develop your managers as leaders, using nudge coaching and machine-learning to develop them as coaches.

While you can learn more about how Saberr specifically supports one-to-ones here, if you'd like to be shown the Saberr platform in action, or have any specific questions, you can book in for a chat here.

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Two male team members having a meeting