The Secrets on How to Effectively Lead a 1:1 (2023)

Mastering team motivation requires a carefully curated approach consisting of key motivational factors, limiting leadership pitfalls, and an overall personalized approach based on each individual’s career stage. The 1:1 is a critical piece of team motivation as it acts as a dedicated space on the calendar for managers and team members to discuss goals, progress, challenges within the business, career aspirations, and to personally connect. Ben Horowitz, cofounder and general partner at the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, describes a 1:1 as a “free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas, and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.” However, what does it take to run a good meeting and most effectively motivate your team members?

To better understand the importance of a 1:1 and dig into best practices in team motivation, we conducted a recent survey of 250+ U.S. marketing professionals. Full findings from the survey can be foundhere.

1:1s are Critical for Team Motivation

The Secrets on How to Effectively Lead a 1:1 (1)

Nearly two-thirds of marketers feel that a 1:1 with their manager is highly important in energizing and maintaining their motivation. Of those who don’t currently have 1:1s with their managers, 76% want one. Some pointed to an increased importance because of the pandemic. A brand VP mentioned, “Remote work creates difficulties in staying connected across teams and inhibits having a more cohesive purview into company priorities. 1:1s are absolutely necessary to bridge the gap between remote work and in-office work, to ensure we are all on a path towards achieving goals and ultimately driving success.”

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The Secrets on How to Effectively Lead a 1:1 (2)

Survey respondents identified the top three reasons why the 1:1 was valuable for individual motivation. Goal alignment was #1 on that list. Goals should not simply be provided at the beginning of the year and then checked in on at the end of the year. Instead, highlight the wins and challenges along the way to continuously align the team to the business goals. Clear direction was the second most important factor demonstrating employees’ need for focus and clarity. As business needs are constantly shifting, this is critical in keeping teams on track and engaged. Finally, the opportunity to feel heard was the third key factor. Things move so quickly at times that employees need specific opportunities for additional input. 

Even though the 1:1 is so critical to team motivation, some managers don’t realize its effectiveness and/or how to run a successful meeting. “When I first became a manager, I hated 1:1 meetings. My company required them for each direct report, but I found the whole concept odd. What were we going to talk about for all that time? What if I was asked a question I couldn’t answer? What if I was awkward? As a result, I avoided 1:1s for my first six months as a manager. How wrong I was. In my fear of the awkward moments, I was missing out on one of the most effective tools available to you as a leader.” – Kimber Lockhart, CTO at One Medical 

Below we’ve demystified the approach by breaking down the key secrets to a successful 1:1.

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Step 1: Set up a Schedule & Stick to It

The Secrets on How to Effectively Lead a 1:1 (3)

There’s nothing worse than a 1:1 meeting that gets consistently rescheduled or canceled. According to Allyson Witherspoon, Nissan’s U.S. CMO, “The most successful approach for 1:1’s is for both manager and the employee to be committed to them. As a manager, you need to be committed to attending and actively participating. Every time.”

If a 1:1 is placed at the bottom of the meeting food chain, it is clear to team members that the manager does not value the time and as a result, this can become a demotivational pitfall. 

Instead, managers should be establishing a recurring schedule with each employee and keeping the meetings prioritized as much as possible. Some employees will want weekly meetings and others bi-weekly meetings. Managers should tailor timing to meet the individual needs of their team. In addition, there will be moments when the 1:1 schedule needs to bend and flex to accommodate extraordinary challenges, like a pandemic. “I offered my team the chance to move from bi-weekly to weekly 1:1 meetings during the pandemic. Once things normalized a bit, these team members asked to move back to bi-weekly meetings. I let them lead and dictate how frequently they wanted to check in,” said one Brand Director.

Step 2: Be Prepared

Managers should ensure that all team members clearly understand the objectives of the 1:1 prior to the meeting. In addition, both leaders and employees should come prepared with a list of items they want to cover. Both from the perspective of the employee and the manager, having a summary of what needs to be addressed will lead to better outcomes. Demonstrating preparedness as a manager indicates to the team that each individual’s time is valued and further, that their career growth is something that the manager takes seriously. “Great 1:1s are built on a foundation of clear expectations.” Jessica Powell, Co-Founder of Audioshake.  

Step 3: Connect Personally

The pandemic has been challenging for many of us in myriad ways, from homeschooling, layoffs, and space constraints working in tiny apartments with roommates. It is important that managers take a moment to check in on how the team is doing and find out more about each individual personally. This helps set up a safe space for each team member to feel comfortable opening up about challenges and receiving critical feedback, where necessary.

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If you don’t know the name of their kids, spouses or pets…you need to.

“Before we get down to business, I always ask my team how they are doing personally. It’s important that you know what their home situation is like – especially in a virtual world where it is not as easy to read body language. Everyone has their own struggles and it is important to have a pulse on their overall mental state. If you don’t know the name of their kids, spouses or pets…you need to.” – Amy Woodbridge, Marketing Lead, Zoetis Inc.

Step 4: Highlight the Positive

Begin the meeting by highlighting and celebrating the wins. So often in the course of trying to juggle the needs of the business, managers forget to stop and draw attention to the successes of the team. By not doing so, they are unintentionally installing a negative feedback loop in which the only reaction an employee receives is critical. This makes an employee want to avoid manager feedback and even worse, tune it out. An Agency Manager said: “Sometimes validation is needed. Of course, we’re all just doing our jobs day in and day out, and the work you put out is expected of you, but it’s just nice to hear ‘hey, you’re doing a great job’ once in a while.”

Step 5: Be Present, Actively Listen & Don’t Dominate the Conversation

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller. Turn off the ringer on your phone. Close out of Slack, Microsoft Teams and anything else with constant audio notifications. Make a strong attempt to limit distractions and actively listen during the conversation. According to a Brand Director, “In one of my 1:1s, my manager opened packages while conducting the meeting. Ultimately, I felt disrespected and as if my manager didn’t value the time.” Many of us are trying to multitask our way through life to manage the litany of responsibilities on our plates. However, studies show that multitasking only limits focus and decreases productivity across tasks. 

Active listening is the art of not only listening with your ears but also paying attention to body language and other cues, which is why it is important to conduct these meetings on video or in-person versus a telephone call. Effective active listening has become only more difficult during the pandemic with all the increasing challenges of working from home, from children running through the background to packages coming to the door. However, when distractions are limited, managers can better connect to uncover the needs of their team and help guide employees through challenges along the way.

While we recommend that managers come with an outline of what needs to be covered in the 1:1, it is important that managers do not use the meeting as an opportunity for soliloquy, but instead focus on what employees have to say. “When you talk, you are only repeating what you know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama  

Step 6: Paint the Bigger Picture

Last but certainly not least, as we uncovered from our survey, employees are craving clarity and an overall sense of direction. It is critical that leadership connect individual responsibilities to the overall needs of the business to demonstrate how each piece helps the company achieve its objectives.

Employees are craving clarity and an overall sense of direction.

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A Brand Director described the 1:1 as valuable because it “helps clarify priorities and goals from top-down. On the other end, it gives me the opportunity to make sure my manager has a full picture of my projects, typically resulting in recognition / being seen/appreciated, etc. My manager doesn’t always have a clear understanding of what I’m up to or exactly what my job entails, so this alignment is an important part of staying motivated.” Not only is it essential to provide the bigger picture, but it is also important to listen to understand each employee’s bigger picture as well. By doing this, every leader can help provide solutions when challenges get in the way of successful outcomes.

The power of the 1:1 is not only in reflection and personal connection but also in driving the business forward in one cohesive fashion. So, get scheduling. When you invest more time into the process, you will see the power in the rewards.

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What Makes 1 1s the most valuable for you? ›

The most important element in a successful 1:1 is creating a space where individuals feel comfortable to discuss the issues and concerns on their mind. These meetings are primarily for the employee and their participation is vital.

How often should 1 1s happen? ›

Managers should have a weekly one-to-one scheduled with each direct report. It is understandable if it needs to be rescheduled in a specific week, or if it doesn't happen from time to time. But in my experience, managers should aim to have one-to-one meetings at least three out of every four weeks.

What does a good 121 look like? ›

Good practice would be to have a 121 on a monthly basis. 121s are an opportunity to discuss priorities, update on operational matters, talk about support and learning requirements or just to check in and maintain a strong relationship.

What should be discussed in a 1 on 1 meeting? ›

Structuring your one-on-one meeting

Aside from operational task-focused questions, other things you'll want to cover on a regular basis are alignment, wellbeing, growth/progress, career aspirations, relationships. Of course, you should also create space for your direct report to steer the conversation.

What should I talk to my manager at 1 on 1? ›

One of the most important things that you should necessarily discuss during your one on one meeting with your manager are your career goals and development. This is your chance to explain to her how you'd like to be challenged in your role or if you're getting bored in your current role.

What day of the week is best for one-on-one meetings? ›

The most optimal time to book a meeting is on Tuesday at 2:30 p.m., according to a study conducted by YouCanBookMe, a U.K.-based scheduling software company. The team analyzed data from 530,000 meeting invitations and determined that was the time most people were free.

Are 1 1 meetings worth it? ›

1-on-1 meetings are a key component of a successful ongoing feedback model. They give managers and their direct reports uninterrupted time to discuss projects, review performance, remove blockers, and more. It also provides an opportunity for managers to get to know their employees on a more personal level.

How often should managers have 1 1s? ›

Our research shows that employees want weekly one-on-one meetings with their managers. Weekly one-on-ones strengthen the connection between managers and employees and enable them to discuss and respond to opportunities and obstacles in real-time.

How do you structure a 121 meeting? ›

According to Horowitz, you can structure your one-on-one by splitting the meeting into two sections: your talking points and your employee's. However, your direct-reports should always set the meeting tone by addressing their concerns and questions first.

What do you say in a first meeting with a new team? ›

Keep It Short and Informal. Before the meeting starts, let your team know that it's going to be a quick introductory gathering, so there won't be an agenda. Once in the room, explain a little about yourself. Consider using business storytelling to communicate your values and what you're trying to achieve.

What is a 1 1 template? ›

What is a one-to-one meeting template? A one-to-one meeting template is a set of suggested questions to help you bring structure to your one-to-one meetings and make them a space for employee enablement and coaching.

What makes a good first line supervisor? ›

The most successful first-line managers are able to inspire commitment, recognize and reward the contributions of others, and guide direct reports to complete work, especially when goals are unclear.

What do you discuss in a first 1 1 meeting? ›

It's recommended for managers to utilize the first meeting to not only understand more about the new employee's life, FUDs (if any), career aspirations and their immediate goals; but also to open up about themselves and their expectations for the new employee.

How do you bring energy to a meeting? ›

If you focus on questions around the meeting topics, it helps people prepare themselves mentally for the topics at hand in a kinesthetic, engaging way. If you focus on more personal questions, it can help people get to know each other, laugh, and raise the positive emotional state of everyone in the room.

What makes a successful meeting? ›

An effective meeting brings a thoughtfully selected group of people together for a specific purpose, provides a forum for open discussion, and delivers a tangible result: a decision, a plan, a list of great ideas to pursue, a shared understanding of the work ahead.

What should a manager expect from a 1 on 1? ›

A 1:1 meeting (pronounced one-on-one or one-to-one meeting) is a regular check-in between two people in an organization – typically a manager and an employee. It's used to give feedback, keep each other in the loop, resolve issues, and help the participants grow in their roles.


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