How To Start One-on-One Meetings

I got a lot of emails (and comments) about my series on one-on-one meetings.

I know that it can be daunting at first, especially if you are a new leader. When do I start them? How do I start them? How do I introduce them?

How to Start One on One Meetings
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That last question (how do I introduce them) is one I wrestled with for weeks. I had introduced them so poorly the first time I tried that I was afraid. I did a ton of research on the subject, talked to friends and family, and finally decided that I had to get over my fears and just do them. If my team didn’t like them, so be it, but I knew they would be an important part of my leadership.

Here is how I started the process of one-on-one meetings the second time I did them.

The 4 Steps to Starting One-on-One Meetings

1. I sent an email to my team introducing them to one-on-one meetings.

I told them in advance about the 15-10-5 format, tried to address any fears or questions they might have, and told them I would like to start this week.

I created a downloadable Word Doc of the actual text that I sent to my team, with names taken out, so that you can easily take it and edit it and use it for your own team. Feel free to literally copy the email as it is. Just make sure to change the few parts in brackets!

Download One-on-One Meeting Introduction Email (and get the one-on-one meeting agenda form as well).

2. We started meeting.

The first meeting was mostly about the meetings. It did not follow the normal 15-10-5 format at all (see part three). It was more like 27-3. They asked a lot of questions and I answered them.

one-on-one-downloadAt the very end, I used a few minutes to address anything else I felt was relevant. The second week followed the normal format almost perfectly.

3. Stay consistent, especially early on.

I picked a time when I absolutely, with no exceptions, was able to meet with them at a consistent time for six straight weeks.

As I mentioned post #3 in the series, things come up. Meetings have to be rescheduled. Not in the first six weeks though. I wanted to get into a rhythm first and show them my commitment. This meant I delayed starting them for almost four weeks due to a planned vacation.

If you travel a lot, that does not mean you can never start one-on-ones. It might just mean that all of your meetings are on a Monday or Friday or that you cannot commit to a consistent time each week. If that truly is the case, break rule #1 (Pick and Stick to a Time) and do them anyway. While a specific, consistent time is important, not having one is not an excuse to not do them at all.

4. I communicated point #3 to my boss.

This way he knew not to schedule anything with my team during those times. I gave him my meeting calendar and told him that rescheduling those was off limits. He was impressed and helped me stick with those times.

Follow those four steps and you are on your way to some great one-on-one meetings. Make one-on-one meetings the pillar of your leadership too and watch your team’s performance soar!

Now, go get started.

Question: Have you started doing one-on-ones? If not, what is your biggest hold up? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

This is a part of my series on one-on-one meetings. For all posts in the series and free downloads to help you start and run the meetings go here: One-on-One Meetings for Leaders
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  • It’s great that you told your people in advance. I think that’s the most important part of buy-in.

    • I agree. They seemed to really be excited about them instead of fearful like the first time I did them.

  • Very well done. That’s great that you prepared your team for the meetings, and then stayed consistent. So important. Great series!

    • Thanks Carol.

      Just occurred to me that I even had a guy ask if he could see my sheet (my One-on-One Meeting Form) that I had been using for weeks. It was kind of a mystery to them…what was I writing? what was on there?

      So I shared it. And he thought it was just awesome. It took away a lot of the mystery behind that sheet and so I shared it with the whole team.

      • I think people are so conditioned to only being called into the boss’s office for bad news (akin to being called to the principal’s office), that they find it hard to believe that you want to hear FROM them and tell them what they are doing right. I know even now, I hear co-workers say things like “what did I do now?” when our Executive Director wants to see them. Great to make it a more positive experience!

        • I like the analogy to the principal’s office…it should NOT be like that at all. For one, no one should be called to the office in public (hey teachers are you listening here?!?!?) and second, it should be good news or neutral news at least 2/3 times.

  • Matt, I really appreciate this post (or series of posts). I have a couple of busy weeks coming up, but I can see of executing this plan would reap major benefits. Thank you.

    • Great Jon!

      I am writing an e-book (shhhh) on one-on-one meetings as well that ties all this together better.

      As eager as you are, since you have a busier than normal couple of weeks, use that time to plan them and wait until you can really focus on them for a few weeks. Just make sure you don’t keep using “I’m really busy” as an excuse not to ever start them. :)

      • Great suggestions! I operate quite a bit through my Outlook Calendar. For me an important first step will be to carve out and schedule these times.

        Question for you: You seem to be pointing to weekly one-on-one meetings. I have 12 direct reports not including 5 union pipe fitters. Doing one-on-one’s each week seems somewhat unrealistic. Have you seen success with every other week meetings or once a month meetings, or do you strictly recommend weekly meetings?

        As for the e-book, I’d love to get my hands on that, and I’d certainly love to promote it on my blog. Let me know if I can help.

        • First off, thank you! You always have good comments and questions Jon.

          I am writing the e-book. No timetable yet. Maybe this month, maybe next. Maybe next year. :) Thank you for offering to promote it!

          As for the frequency: I used the term “managerial economics” in the last post in the original series (look at the last Q&A here:

          Here is the formula as I found it. I spent 35 minutes per team member on average each week. That is 25 minutes for the meeting (on average) and 10 minutes for prep and follow up. 35 X 12 (not sure how the pipe fitters “fit” in, pardon the pun, so let’s run with the 12 for now) = 7 hours.

          Those 7 hours should yield anywhere from 21 to 70 hours of increased productivity from your team. Let’s go with 40 hours. So for 7 hours of your time, you got a free team member. That may or may not be a good trade off for you. It probably is though.

          Here is another factor: The less frequently you have them, the longer they will be.

          So here are two possibilities. 1. Weekly – 7 total hours. 2. Every other week – 10-11 total hours. You really only gain 3-4 hours over the course of the two weeks.

          So…yes, weekly it is.

          Here is a suggestion if you are really worried about time. Keep it to 20 minutes. Go with a 10-5-5 format. And be almost militant with keeping to the time.

          Lastly, make sure you not using your time to communicate things that could be communicated to the whole group at once. This is a judgment call on your part.

          “I am promoting you” or “We are restructuring the department and it affects you” are one-on-one meeting topics.

          “We are moving offices” or “Everyone gets next Friday off” are group meeting or email topics. No need to cover those in your one-on-one.

          I could have done a post on this :)

          • Again, really great stuff here, Matt!

            Thanks! I’m processing all this, and I hope to launch by mid-October with my one-on-one meetings.

            Do you do any guest posting? I’d love to share your talent on my blog. I think you would “stretch” my readers.

          • I do indeed. I also accept them

            Got any good topics you’d like me to write about?

          • A couple ideas:
            – Personal growth and accountability
            – Any topic related to marriage or parenting
            – Your personal stretch story (what’s stretching you these days, how have you been stretched in the past, what you might have to share that would stretch my readers).
            Let me know if this sparks any thoughts or ideas (or if you need further clarification).
            (Another great topic – The Thank You Revolution and One-on-One Meetings!)

  • Chance Smith

    Super email template to the team!

    Do you still have use for team meetings? or have the One-on-One’s replaced such?

    Also would you meet with just your direct reports or everyone under them as well? I’m guessing the former for it would be rather impossible considering the size of company.

    Thanks Matt!

    • Team meetings are still very important. That is where you get to share things with the group and have them share with each other. And brainstorm if needed.

      I still did a daily stand-up meeting for 3-5 minutes and a bi-weekly team meeting that lasted one hour. Those meetings were very strict on time. One-on-Ones could be a little more flexible.

      Only meet with direct reports. Those under them should meet with their team leaders.

      • Hey Matt, what do you do with the papers from the One-on-Ones? Type as you meet, instead of print the template? Evernote a pic of form? File them? Bring them to the next meeting to review?

        I have been trying to go as paperless as possible. The problem with that is consuming too much information to really have a reason to go back to it. 50-ish One-on-Ones a year, per direct report, is a heaping pile!

        How do you do it?

        • I personally printed them all out blank and wrote on them. I kept them all, just for future reference but I only took the current one to the meeting.

          BEFORE the meeting, I would fill parts of it out based on the last meeting (i.e. follow-up items, etc.)

          Over time, I actually did make a printed version for each member with some constant things printed on there. I had one team member with seven children. It took me a year to remember all of their names, so I had those printed on there. Anything you think might come up in conversation that you want to remember (kids’ names, spouse name, alma mater, favorite hobbies, etc.) you can print on there so you don’t have to write them each week.

          As far as things I would write from the previous week:

          Action items / deliverables
          Plans they had for the previous week (personal, such as a mini-vacation, sporting event, etc.)
          Anything I wanted to ask them about or follow-up with them about on a personal or professional level.

          If you are really concerned about paper, print on both sides :)

          Hope that helps!

  • Starting today.

  • Matt,

    Brilliant article. SO many direct reports get spooked at the idea of having a One on One meeting. However, the moment you communicate with each one the important and value of the meeting, it makes a world of difference. I absolutely love how you have written a post on how to communicate that you will be doing One on Ones. Great article.


    • It’s so true Jon! At my last job my co-workers were terrified if they were asked to come visit with the boss…that’s what happens when the communication isn’t there!

      …I had been reading Matt’s blog, so I’d actually initiated one-on-one meetings as often as they would let me have them, so I wasn’t worried :)