A quick and easy guide to making your 1-2-1s more effective


That weekly 1-2-1 with your boss or direct report is a staple of office life. And while most recognise its merits, many are often left scratching their heads wondering why theirs feels more like an unstructured get-together for the sake of face-to-face time.

Does catch up time with your manager, perhaps on the rare occasion it isn’t cancelled last minute, feel more like a one-way delegation session that leaves you with a burgeoning to-do list? Does your direct report turn up each week with a blank page where their agenda for the conversation should be? Follow our quick guide to transforming that precious 30 minutes into something of real value.

1. Define what you both want from the time

If you’re embarking on a new employee-manager relationship, use that first session to define what future regulars could look like. As the employee, you should see it as your responsibility to propose how your 1-2-1s should work, while incorporating your boss’s wishes and negotiating your way around any sticking points like frequency or length. As a general rule of thumb, in the early days of a role and during major projects it’s wise to meet more frequently and for a full hour, while you might realistically agree to reduce these to 30 minutes per fortnight during business as usual. If you’re raising the topic of 1-2-1s in an on-going relationship as either manager or employee, frame it positively around wanting to make more efficient use of time and keeping on top of important communications. If you’re raising this conversation as the more senior partner, be clear that you expect the employee to take charge of the agenda.

2. Create an agenda and send around in advance

You wouldn’t hold a team meeting without drafting an agenda; the 1-2-1 with your boss warrants as much preparation. Spend some time thinking through the information you need to impart, the questions you want to ask and the discussion you want to generate, assigning approximate chunks of time to each. Don’t forget to include gaps for any items your boss might want to add in, and circulate beforehand asking for those to be filled in ahead of the session so you’ve time to prepare your input too. As the manager, instil in your direct reports the importance of the agenda, and live up to your end of the bargain by ensuring you share in advance items you want to include in their next session.

3. Avoid using your 1-2-1 as a project update

One of the reasons the employee-manager update can feel like an unproductive waste of time is that it dissolves into a sharing of information that could just as effectively be circulated via email. If your boss requires statistical analysis or an update on a project, share the facts in advance of the session, and use the 1-2-1 to dig deeper, analysing why things have gone well or brainstorming together ideas for turning around downward trends.  

4. Generate and offer feedback

If, like 65% of employees, you wish your boss gave you more constructive feedback to aid your career growth, the 1-2-1 is your golden opportunity. Being as specific as possible in your request yields the best results, and also allows you to demonstrate the fact you value your boss’s input and advice. As the manager in the relationship, the 1-2-1 is likewise your prime time to nip problems in the bud before they become wider issues, and steer your employee’s behaviour through rewarding those you’d like to see more of.

5. Share and share alike

You can make a great case study of your boss by observing his or her behaviour from afar or in larger group meetings. But your 1-2-1 time offers a chance to truly connect and establish what motivates them, what challenges they face and how your work fits into their wider goals. If you’re clueless as to what’s currently on your boss’s to-do list, how his or her objectives relate to yours, and what their own manager relationship is like, weave these questions into your conversations to enable a greater understanding. As well as using your 1-2-1 as a fact-finding mission, you can use it to convey where your ambitions lie and which skills you’d like to hone should the opportunity arise. As the manager, you can foster a more collaborative relationship with an employee by sharing your goals and discussing how your work can be more closely aligned to support one another’s success.

6. Be present in the moment

Constant glances at the clock, responding with one-word answers and racing through the agenda points without really agreeing anything sends a clear signal to your manager or employee that you’ve somewhere more important to be. For both parties it’s important to remain alert and open in both your verbal communication and body language. And if you are up against the clock and can only dedicate quarter of an hour to this week’s session, make it a meaningful 15 minutes, by agreeing what issues and ideas you need to work through next time you meet.

7. Keep one eye on the bigger picture

Divisional goals, future plans and annual appraisals don’t need to be on the agenda for every 1-2-1, but being mindful of those things is a wise move. If you’ve been given specific feedback around your presentation style, you don’t have to wait until next year’s appraisal to find out if you’ve nailed it – regularly check in and ask how your boss perceives your efforts to improve in that department. Likewise, as the giver of feedback, take the time to notice when your direct report has acted on feedback.

More advice for employees

Successful meetings: it’s all in the preparation (part 1)

Successful meetings: taking the chair (part 2)

Understanding your boss: the key to a successful partnership

Workbook: Managing upward with success

More advice for managers

Delivering feedback: 3 ways for new line managers

7 ways to unleash your team’s creative side

Quiz: Are you a manager or a leader?

Workbook: Stepping into leadership


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