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4 Steps to effective one-to-ones

One-to-ones are one of the most important ways managers can support their team members.

They are an opportunity to step away from the to-do-list and think more strategically about what you’re trying to achieve, the impact the work is having and the priorities moving forward. One-to-ones provide a dedicated space for managers to help their team members develop and grow in their roles. They also strengthen working relationships and show your team members that you value and care about them.

When you are managing at a distance, these one-to-one meetings become even more important. You’re not working in the same office, so there’s less opportunity to pick up visual clues about team members progress, motivation and wellbeing. This makes the times you do interact one on one with your team even more important. And that means as a manager, you need to prepare and be on the ball during one-to-ones held by phone or by video call. You need to use these precious moments of connection to think strategically, practice valuable inter-personal skills and to spot issues before they become problems. So how can you ensure you make the best use of them?

1. Protect the time

Protect the time

Set regular times in both of your calendars. The frequency will depend on how much help the team member needs. One-to-ones should be more frequent if the other person is new, taking on new challenges or experiencing change or challenge in their role. They should be more frequent when managing a distance than when you see the people you manage every day. Turn up on time and don’t cancel the virtual meeting unless absolutely necessary. If you need to reschedule, move it to the next day. By protecting the time you have together, you are showing that they are your priority, even if you can’t see them all the time.

2. Co-create an agenda

You might have an agenda template for standing items you want to cover but the one-to-one is meant to be a discussion and the conversation should be flexible enough to accommodate whatever is important for you and them. Prepare discussion points in advance. Do you want to focus on anything in particular: their development, their wellbeing, their motivation? Ask your team member to add topics to the agenda that are most important to them.

The following are good topics to cover. Plan questions you can ask to help your team member reflect, think and share. Some examples are shown below. Only choose a couple at a time, you want your team member to feel supported, not interrogated. Share any key questions in advance if you think those topics require prior reflection and thought.

  • Open well: demonstrate the conversation is about them and build trust from the outset.

How are you?  Be ready to share how you are too.

  •  Impact and results: this is an opportunity to reflect on the progress of key pieces of work and the impact being made. This is not the time to go through task lists. Instead focus on the strategy and on problem solving together.

How are you doing against the agreed milestones? What has been successful? What did you do that helped? What did others do that helped? What feedback have we had from others? How does this link to our goals? Are there any obstacles, now or coming up? What can you do to work through them? How can I help?

  • Priorities and focus: when you work at a distance it is essential that you both have the same understanding of the priorities between different elements of work and adjust these priorities as needed. They are also an opportunity to understand how the other person works and what might be hindering their ability to focus.

What are your priorities over the next week or month? What is most important? What might need to wait? Is anything affecting your ability to focus? What are your biggest interrupters? What changes could we make to optimise your day?


  • Personal development: the key benefit people look for in their role is the opportunity to learn and advance in their career. When people aren’t growing, they leave. Use this time together to help your team member identify how they are developing and spot new ways to grow.

What are you most enjoying? What work do you like least? What are you finding easy? What is challenging? What have you learnt from the successes or challenges of recent work? What have you learnt about yourself? What skills are you using (or not using)? What new skills do you want or need to acquire? How does this fit with your development and career goals?

  • Continuous improvement: use the time to build a team culture that is open to change and that is proactively looking for ways to improve. People who work at home can sometimes feel isolated, so you can also support them and strengthen the team by building links between team members.

Do you have any ideas to help us work more effectively or efficiently? Is there anything we could do to help us improve as a team? What is working? What could we do differently? Do you have any suggestions for improvement in the way you and I work together? How are you getting on with team members? Is there an opportunity to work with others? To support others or learn from others?

  • Resources: if your team member is working at home you should check that they have the resources they need to do their job well and safely.

Where physically at home do you do most of your work? Do you have enough space? Is it physically comfortable? Do you have the IT equipment, internet connection or any other resources you need?

  • Wellbeing and work-life balance: performance and wellbeing go hand in hand. Your role is to create an environment that empowers team members to manage their own wellbeing and if needed, you can connect them with wellbeing support opportunities that your organisation provides. You may also need to adjust priorities based on their wellbeing needs.

How is your health? Is anything causing you concern or stress? Is everything ok at home? Are you working normal hours? Are you giving yourself proper breaks in the day to eat, exercise and get fresh air? Are you able to turn-off at the end of the day?

  • Capture actions: don’t tap away on your laptop for the whole meeting, it is really distracting for both you and your team member. Capture the odd note and leave five minutes at the end to recap any agreed actions, both yours and theirs. Ask if there is anything, they need from you to move forward on their actions.
  • Close well: the best way to close the meeting is with a positive. People need to know they are valued. Slow down and say, “Thank you”. Or go further “I appreciate and value what you’re doing.” Whatever you say – make sure it is genuine.

3. Advise or Coach

When discussing challenges decide whether your team member needs your advice and help, or whether your role is to ask questions to help them problem solve. Ideally strike a balance of both, this ensures you are being helpful and building sustainability not dependency.

Take a look at the GROW coaching model here. It’s a very powerful way of problem solving with your team members that allows them to take ownership over the solution.

4. Build a culture of feedback

Consider within the conversation when you want to give feedback and how you will give it. Ensure there is some positive feedback on what they are doing well, as well as areas for development and stretch. The one-to-one is also a great opportunity to help your team member accurately assess themselves. Consider how you can ask them to reflect on what they are doing, what is working, and what they might want to adapt.

See this article for advice on giving effective feedback.


As with all things, managing gets easier with experience, and the benefits of effective one-to-ones far outweighs the time investment. When one-to-ones are well planned, open and collaborative, you can build trust, develop a true sense of connection and help to shape a motivated and positive team.

To speak to one of our management consultants about a particular challenge you’re facing, call 020 7978 1516 or email

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Charlotte Scott

About Charlie Scott

Charlie specialises in leadership development, team facilitation and strategy development. Charlie worked for over 20 years in the not-for-profit sector. Before joining =mc ten years ago, she created and...