Make Your One On Ones More Productive

Published on August 18, 2023 by Sawyer Middeleer

Make Your One On Ones More Productive

In the corporate world, one-on-one meetings often carry a substantial weight in shaping the trajectory of employee growth and overall team success. However, for far too many managers and team members alike, these meetings can feel like a procedural check-in rather than a powerhouse of productivity and engagement. If you're finding that your one-on-ones feel stale, it's time to rejuvenate these interactions to foster a more dynamic working relationship and drive concrete outcomes. To achieve this, we must understand not only the structure but also the philosophy that underpins a productive one-on-one.

The Philosophy of a Productive One-on-One

Before we dive into tactical advice, let's take a step back and appreciate the underlying principles that should guide any one-on-one.

Firstly, these meetings are a platform for mutual learning. They're a space where managers discover more about their team members’ personal goals, challenges, and insights, while employees gain understanding about wider business objectives and receive direct feedback. A one-on-one should feel less like a status update and more like a strategic alliance.

The second principle is respect for time. Recognize that both parties are investing precious time that could be spent on other tasks. This acknowledgment should fuel the imperative to make one-on-ones as effective as possible.

Lastly, it's about embracing an attitude of continuous improvement. These meetings are a recurring opportunity to refine processes, align on expectations, and iterate upon performance strategies.

Crafting the Agenda

A productive one-on-one is rarely improvised; it's molded with intention. Every productive meeting starts with a well-structured agenda. This agenda should be a collaborative document that invites both parties to have their say on the topics to be discussed.

1. Start With Successes

Begin on a positive note by discussing recent successes. This could be related to performance metrics, project completions, or personal development milestones. Recognizing these wins provides motivation and sets a positive tone for the conversation.

- Review recent achievements and milestones
- Celebrate successes and discuss strategies that led to these outcomes

2. Tackle the Challenges

After celebrating successes, shift gears to tackle current issues or concerns. Encourage honest dialogue about what's not working. This is where you can offer guidance, brainstorm solutions, and set a plan of action.

- Discuss current challenges and barriers to success
- Provide and receive feedback on specific issues

3. Personal Development and Career Aspirations

This part of the agenda shows your investment in the employee’s growth. Discuss their career path, learning opportunities, and how their current role aligns with long-term goals.

- Discuss career aspirations and potential growth opportunities
- Identify skills that the employee wants to develop or improve and make plans to support this

4. Forward Planning

Discuss upcoming projects, align on goals, and anticipate potential roadblocks. This forward-thinking approach ensures that both manager and employee are synchronously looking ahead.

- Outline upcoming projects and responsibilities
- Set clear objectives and timeline expectations for next steps

5. Action Items Review and Close

Conclude the meeting by summarizing all the action items agreed upon. This reinforces accountability and ensures clarity on the next steps.

- Recap the meeting's agreed-upon action items
- Confirm understanding and commitment to next steps

The Art of the Conversation

Beyond the agenda, how the conversation unfolds is what truly defines a productive one-on-one.

  • Active Listening

The hallmark of productive communication is active listening. Don’t just hear, but listen and respond thoughtfully. Managers should aim to understand not only the substance of what's being said but also the nuances in how it's communicated.

  • Encouraging Openness

Create a safe space where employees can speak freely about concerns without fear of negative repercussions. This openness fosters trust and, in turn, more productive discussions.

  • Maintaining Focus

While one-on-ones can occasionally veer off into tangential topics, it’s vital to steer the conversation back to the critical points on your agenda. Respect the framework you’ve collaboratively set up to maintain focus.

  • Documentation

Take notes during the meeting or immediately afterward to capture key takeaways, especially action items. The documentation can serve as a reference for future meetings.

  • Follow-Up

The true productivity of a one-on-one is often determined in the follow-up. Check in on progress, provide needed support, and hold each other accountable for action items.

Continuous Improvement: The Feedback Loop

One-on-ones should be iterative, with each meeting building upon the last. Encourage feedback on the meeting itself. Was it productive? What could be done differently? This meta-evaluation helps to refine the process over time.

Integrating Technology

In our modern work environment, software tools can play an invaluable role in making one-on-ones more productive. Project management tools can help track progress on action items, while shared documents and note-taking apps can keep agendas and notes organized and accessible. Consider using these tools to support your one-on-one process.


Making your one-on-ones more productive isn't just about following a script or checklist; it's about engaging with a philosophy that prioritizes learning, mutual respect, time efficiency, and the relentless pursuit of improvement. By crafting a thoughtful agenda, engaging in meaningful conversation, ensuring diligent follow-up, and being open to feedback, you can turn these individual check-ins into some of the most valuable hours in your work week.

Remember, the goal of a productive one-on-one is not just to go through the motions, but to foster a dynamic relationship that empowers both manager and employee to achieve their best.

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