The One on One Meeting: An in-depth guide to building trust and increasing team performance

How to use 1:1s to build strong teams

Cameron Henneke
Nov 14, 2019

Meetings are generally known as one of the leading drains of company resources. According to a 2019 study by Doodle, two-thirds of all meetings are unnecessary or a waste of time. Ineffective meetings - whether lacking focus, running too long, or including the wrong people - keep employees from getting real work done. The problem is so prevalent there are even tools to measure how much time you waste in meetings and help you block out more time for deep work. While many meetings should be cancelled or declined, there is one type of meeting that may be the most valuable way to spend your time as a manager: the one on one.

What are one on ones?

The one on one meeting (also spelled 1 on 1 meeting, or 1:1 meeting) has become quite popular with managers because of its effectiveness in leading teams. So what is this magical tool, exactly? We define one on ones as regular conversations between two people, typically a manager and direct report, with the purpose of building trust, providing support, receiving feedback, and creating alignment.

There is a lot packed into this definition, so let’s look at each part.

First, the required components:


For one on one meetings to work, they must be routine -- usually once a week or every two weeks. A regular cadence gives a team member a sense of consistent support from his manager and allows him to discuss issues as they surface. Trust is built over time, and having frequent, scheduled meetings is key to its cultivation.

Two people

As the name implies, one on one meetings are between two people, only. Having a private conversation promotes honest communication, and provides space for a team member to share fears and concerns. In addition, when a manager gives a team member her full attention, she not only sends a strong signal of support, but will likely gain insights otherwise buried in a group setting.

Next, the goals of this regular conversation:

Building trust

The primary purpose of a one on one is to build trust, which is a critical component of high performing teams. A recent Google study found the presence and degree of “psychological safety” -- the perception of whether it’s safe to take risks -- was by far the most important factor in determining a team’s effectiveness. When a manager regularly makes time to listen to a team member and discuss what’s at the forefront of his mind, she conveys she values him, whether the topics are work-related or not. This builds trust and a safety net which enables risk taking -- which might include speaking up in a team meeting, trying someone’s new approach to solving a problem, or admitting when a mistake was made.

Providing support

The most effective managers lead by supporting their team members, whether it’s clearing roadblocks, connecting resources, clarifying priorities or providing opportunities for growth. One on ones are an opportunity for team members to discuss whatever is currently most important to them. These conversations allow managers to discover how they can best support each person in making progress towards the team’s goals.

Sometimes team members will want to discuss personal matters, and this is a chance for managers to show they care and help their team at the same time. According to a worldwide study conducted by Towers Watson, the single biggest driver of engagement at work is whether or not employees feel their managers are genuinely interested in their wellbeing

Receiving feedback

Most of the time managers are giving feedback to team members, and this is very valuable if shared thoughtfully. However, one on ones are primarily a time for managers to receive feedback from team members and hear what people really think. Starting out, a manager will usually need to ask directly for this feedback, including how she can better support the employee, what management practices are helping or hurting the team, where an employee wants more or less direction, and even specific criticism on where she could do better as the team leader. Managers should avoid becoming defensive, as this is also a chance to model how to receive feedback effectively.

Creating alignment

Lastly, the purpose of one on ones is to check for, and create alignment between the company’s vision and the employee’s aspirations. This includes managers asking about a team member’s satisfaction with their role, what work they are most proud of, what parts of their job they dislike, and their general happiness at work. Openly discussing these topics allows a manager and team member to work together to address any issues, instead of resentment swelling until it culminates in a surprise departure.

A manager can also learn about a team member’s career goals and find opportunities where he can grow towards them, whether it’s specific training, work on a challenging project, a new role on the team, a different position in the company, or even a job somewhere else. The best managers support their employees’ development instead of stifling growth.

6 benefits of one on one meetings

As a manager you may be wondering if it’s really worth the time to have meetings with each of your direct reports. After all, if you have a large team, this may cost an entire work day each week. Although an investment of time is definitely required, it turns out one on ones can actually save you time and make your job easier in the long run. Here’s how:

  1. Smaller problems - Employees are naturally reluctant to bring up issues until they are sizable enough to make it worth scheduling a meeting. Consequently, by the time you meet, you are dealing with a large problem that will be harder and require more time to solve. On the other hand, when you meet regularly with team members you will learn about issues when they are small and much easier to address, saving time for you and your team.
  2. Less email - When team members know they always have an upcoming, scheduled time to talk with you, they can save up non-urgent topics to discuss in person (more on this process later). This not only lessens their stress, but reduces sporadic email threads and interruptions throughout the week.
  3. Better work - A 2017 study by Salesforce revealed that employees who feel their voice is heard are 4.6 times more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work. Considering this research, listening to your team members in one on ones may actually be the most important use of your time each week.
  4. Higher engagement - Likewise, a Gallup survey discovered that employees whose managers met with them regularly were almost 3 times more engaged at work. Obviously having engaged team members will increase the likelihood of reaching the team’s goals, but it’s also important given this next survey result about turnover.
  5. Lower turnover - Gallup also found that actively disengaged employees were twice as likely to seek new jobs than engaged employees. If your team is engaged, turnover declines, which increases stability. This enables the growth of trust, the development of team culture, and saves you time and money by not having to continuously hire and train new members.
  6. Easier reviews - Finally, by having regular one on ones, annual performance reviews become easier conversations, for both you and your direct reports. Surprises are eliminated because issues, feedback and guidance have been shared throughout the year. With less emphasis on the past, review time can focus more on future goals and the year ahead.

How to hold an effective one on one meeting

Now that you know what one on one meetings are and why you should have them, let’s look at how to ensure they are effective.


We recommend managers be the ones to schedule the meetings, and each should last from 45 minutes to an hour. This allows for deep, meaningful conversation without feeling rushed. One on ones are not a casual drop-in chat. By blocking out sufficient time, a manager signals that listening to the team member is important and worthwhile. Likewise, managers should ensure they are focused and present during the meeting. Multitasking or allowing interruptions will negate the possible benefits of the conversation.


In order for team members to feel comfortable opening up, the meeting location should provide privacy. We actually suggest going for a walk, getting coffee, sitting in a courtyard or having the meeting anywhere other than the manager’s office. This promotes connecting more as humans instead of the traditional roles of boss and employee. In the summers we often hold my one on ones by the river in a nearby park, and they usually include a chocolate treat! It's a refreshing time to step outside the normal pace of work and focus specifically on how to help our team members be successful.


The team member should set the agenda and run the meeting. This is their time to talk about what’s important to them. Of course a manager can help steer the conversation at times, much as a coach would, but she should resist the temptation to control the dialogue.

An easy way for a team member to prepare for these meetings is to track topics for discussion in a shared list as they arise throughout the week. There are many tools to help with this, and we recommend using GQueues to manage the shared agenda. In GQueues a manager can create a Team and add the employee as a collaborator. The employee can add items to the One on One Agenda, and the manager will see what’s coming up for discussion ahead of time. Creating lists for goals, current activities and roadblocks can also be useful to track and reference during the meeting as needed.


Occasionally team members won’t have much on the meeting agenda, or there is time remaining after covering all their planned topics. Sometimes, particularly when first starting one on ones, team members might need help opening up for discussion. As a manager you can help in these situations by asking questions to start conversation. We’ve pulled together a list of questions other great managers ask, organized by the four meeting goals mentioned earlier, to help you get started:

One on one responsibilities

Since one on ones aren't like traditional meetings, it’s worth delineating the responsibilities of each person.

Team member

  • Own the agenda - This is your time to discuss what you want. Avoid status updates and focus on bigger matters such as career goals, constructive feedback, interpersonal issues, etc… Write down topics throughout the week as they arise, and prioritize the list before the meeting.
  • Run the meeting - This is your meeting! Keep track of the time, cover the most important issues, and ensure you’re both clear on any action items.
  • Be open - Your manager wants you to succeed! Be honest and gather courage to bring up “scary” issues if they exist.
  • Offer feedback - Help your manager by giving constructive feedback on what you need and how she can support you better.
  • Share your perspective - Help your manager better understand the entire team by sharing your unique perspective.


  • Schedule the meetings - Set up a repeating meeting on your calendar and invite the team member. Make sure it’s at a time when you can really focus your attention.
  • Don’t cancel - Canceling a meeting causes a team member to think he is not a priority. Set a really high bar for cancellation and reschedule if possible.
  • Be on time - Don’t make a team member wait while you finish one more thing.
  • Be open - Your team member wants to succeed! A supportive approach will set the tone for building trust.
  • Listen - Actively listen with an intent to understand, and refrain from dominating or controlling the conversation.
  • Ask for feedback - Persistently encourage and directly ask your team member to give you feedback. Appreciate criticism, avoid defensiveness, and reward candor.
  • Take notes - Capture insights and help yourself know each team member deeper by taking and reviewing notes.
  • Follow through - Be sure to follow through on any actionable steps you commit to. Trust breaks down if a team member raises an issue, you agree to a solution, and nothing happens.

Get Started

Holding one on one meetings is a clear way to increase a team’s performance. Managers who listen attentively during these regular conversations build trust and gain insights on how to better support their team. Employees who feel heard are more engaged, and are empowered to perform their best work. With an understanding of how to effectively use one in ones you can develop and strengthen team members while helping everyone reach the team’s goals.

About the author
Cameron Henneke

I love building products! And Python. And dark chocolate. When I'm not leading the team at GQueues, I can be found running ultras on the trails of the Rocky Mountains.

Subscribe to our blog
Get the latest posts in your email
Thank you for subscribing!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.