1 on 1s simplified: what every manager needs to know

Today’s world of work calls for frequent, forward-looking feedback all around

Continuous 1 on 1 coaching is essential to ensuring ongoing development, improving employee performance, and driving agile teamwork. Yet, most managers struggle to make time for them, and even when they do, it’s one of the toughest things to get right.

According to Harvard Business Review, 1 on 1s are a productivity tool with two fundamental purposes:

  • A time to ask strategic questions such as – ‘are we focused on the right things?’ or ‘what do I need to do to grow professionally?’
  • A way to show employees you value them and care about them as people

No pressure, right? 

So how can managers equip themselves to make these 1 on 1s not only a regular habit but actually beneficial? We’ve got some ideas…

1. Work on your timing

In today’s fast-paced world, employees don’t want to wait till the end of the year (or even end of the month) for constructive feedback. It’s important for managers to establish ongoing conversations, and create dedicated moments for delivering feedback. 

Set up a recurring calendar invite for each and every member of your team. This shows employees you care, and helps them come to these conversations fully prepared. 

2. Set up an agenda

Approximately 24 hours before, remind your employee about the discussion, and feel free to share your agenda / invite them to share theirs in advance. When building the agenda, keep in mind that it should be future focused, rather than retrospective. Planning for a better tomorrow is more likely to help employees generate constructive ideas around challenges and be more receptive when you share some ideas of your own. 

Having said that, don’t feel hesitant in sharing truly constructive feedback about past actions if need be. 

Here are some agenda starters you might like to ask your employees to think about beforehand: 

  • How they think they can contribute to team goals in the next month
  • What they need from you as a manager to help them achieve their goals 
  • Things they would like to accomplish on a professional or personal level this year

3. Give good feedback

You’re now in the middle of your 1 on 1, and determined to make it meaningful. Keep in mind the following basics about what constitutes good feedback, and what does not: 

4. Keep track

1 on 1s can sometimes feel too casual or even forced, if the employee isn’t really opening up in the conversation. Typically these conversations should last 40-60 minutes, and we’ve even broken down what they should look like:                                                                                                                             

5. Seek as much as you offer

It’s important to remember these conversations are meant to be a two-way street. So if the employee doesn’t feel comfortable sharing feedback about you at first, make sure you seek it yourself. High context cultures like India’s can sometimes make it hard for young professionals to give direct feedback to their seniors at work. The easier you make it for them to do so, the more you’ll benefit from the exchange as well.  

A great way to lead by example and build a strong feedback culture in your team is by asking specific questions, such as – ‘I’d like to work on my ability to (xyz), is there any feedback you can give me that might help me improve?’

6. Check for a common understanding

While talking through the employee’s inputs and your own, make sure you go over what was discussed in the last 1 on 1, and any commitments you both made to each other. 

Similarly, towards the end of your action planning, make sure you both make a note of things the employee will do and needs from you. Share these notes after the meeting and keep them somewhere easily accessible so that you actually make it a habit to refer to these outside of the 1 on 1s as well. 

Tip: Make sure you have these sensitive conversations in a private setting where employees feel safe to express themselves. For example, Mesh provides a safe space where you can prepare for and store your 1 on 1 notes. This in-tool space can only be viewed by you and the individual you are meeting with. It keeps a confidential record of talking points and action items, so you’re sure you never forget a crucial point of discussion —without having to create notes, emails, and minutes of meetings.

1 on 1s don’t need to be complicated, compliance driven or mentally tiring. When we begin to see them differently, they can help both parties build on their strengths, develop new skills and stay engaged at work. So make time for 1 on 1s, and approach them with empathy, purpose and a commitment to bettering both your team and yourself. 

Do you have any tips on how to run effective 1 on 1s? We’d love to hear from you. Write to us @

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