Three Tips to Improve 1:1s

Let’s not beat around the bush.

There is one single activity that develops high performance and retention more than any other single leadership activity. It is the consistent, meaningful conversations of managers with their employees.1

Truly, it is what every employee wants at every level of the organization at some consistent interval with leaders who have an influence on their success and engagement at work.

How To Have One-on-Ones With Employees

Having worked with leaders across the globe for more than 50 years, The Center for Leadership Studies has condensed from thousands of conversations three critical elements of 1:1s that, when consistently applied, lead to energizing conversations: Plan, Connect, Reinforce.


Just as the first step in using the Situational Leadership® Model is to identify the specific task, the starting point for effective 1:1s is to establish what will be beneficial to both parties in these meetings:

  • What do you each want from these focused conversations? What does “worth it” look like?
  • What cadence will work best? How often and at what time of day and month? We often see one hour each month as one meeting of 60 minutes or biweekly of 30 minutes each
  • How will you confirm the agenda? Perhaps share desired topics via email or in a shared document on a communication platform and do so consistently 24-48 hours ahead of the 1:1
  • What are some standing questions or topics that are always welcome to be addressed? To best use time and prevent rework, what topics should be kept for team meetings where many perspectives can be considered?


With the process and expectations clear, establish the best way to interact and communicate with one another:

  • To establish or build trust between you, make the team member the focus:
    • Mute phones and computer notifications
    • Meet at a table rather than across a desk
    • Use a notepad and pen (or digital note-taking device) with purpose, setting them aside when listening is paramount
  • To build active listening as an essential element of these conversations:
    • Summarize or restate what you heard to confirm you heard it accurately
    • Ask follow-up questions to learn more, expanding or narrowing the context
    • Consider the other party’s body language and facial expression. Do they match the tone and tenor of their voice and message? Tell them what you see and hear, and welcome them to confirm or correct your interpretation of these signals
  • When giving new assignments or adjusting current ones:
    • Have your expectations, the process, standard required and the aim or goal (if not the end result) clearly in view and in writing ahead of time–this shows thoughtful preparation and commitment to their success
  • Outside the 1:1
    • What was said in confidence that should not be repeated? Confirm it will be kept
    • What requires further thought and strategic attention? Promise to prioritize time for this


What makes 1:1s most worthwhile is open and honest communication, which leads to actions that bring success:

  • What was promised—action steps for you both—that must be completed before your next 1:1, other team meeting or deadline?
  • How will what you learned in the 1:1 inform other meetings, conversations and decisions you will make? Do you need to gather additional information? If a pivot is necessary, who must you meet with to discuss further and/or inform of important changes?
  • Who else could you connect this person with to bring about greater knowledge, perspective, experience and skill?

What Types of One-on-Ones Should You Have?

Purposeful 1:1s should happen regularly between manager and direct report, but also peer to peer. At a less frequent interval, skip-level meetings (employee to boss’s boss) are also powerful conversations that create understanding, cultivate relationships and affirm standards, objectives and priorities.

Connection to the purpose and importance of the work, as well as to those with whom the work is done, paves a path to engagement, performance and commitment in the workplace. When both people understand what the 1:1 meeting is for, feel confident in the exchange of information and ideas and believe that each person will follow up on what they said they would do, there is no limit to how much more can be accomplished.

How would your retention numbers change if your company adopted this strategy as a cornerstone of organizational culture?

Interested In Learning More

Learn how Effective 1:1s helps leaders transform 1:1s into catalysts for growth and connection that build trust, inclusion and performance accountability!


1Harter J. U.S. employee engagement needs a rebound in 2023. Gallup Workplace. January 25, 2023. Accessed September 25, 2023.