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The Alternative Board Blog

How One on One Meetings Create a Positive Office Culture

Apr. 30, 2019 | Posted by Max Woolf

As a manager, you have a lot of plates to spin and many hats to wear. With all of the work adding more meetings might be the last on your list. But, if you don’t run 1 on 1's with employees, you’re walking straight past the opportunity to create an engagement-rich environment.

Need proof?

The good new's is there is a one-on-one meeting agenda that’s effective and simple. Making time for these meetings can decrease the time spent on-boarding new employees and increase the output of your office.

Make It Part of Your Schedule

Getting started might feel akin to climbing Mountain Everest, blindfolded. But it’s easier than you think. All it takes is to set up a recurring 30-min, regular meeting with each direct report. Employees don’t communicate enough with managers (according to HBR.) Having routine 1:1s can remedy that and jump start engagement.




You might say: "I’ve got 20 people on the team. Are you suggesting I spend 10 hours per week on individual meetings with my employees?"

(a) yes; (b) you shouldn’t have 20 direct reports.

If you do have a team that's too large to manage there needs to be an additional person that is the the leader of that area (i.e. Lead Designer, or Senior Project Manager). They are the only person you should have meetings with. They, in turn, should have 1-2-1 meetings with their team members.

Pro tip: Make sure you meet with each direct report and not only high flyers. Otherwise, you send a clear message that there’s only a handful of people worth your time. If you don't spend time with everyone, 1:1s will have the same effect on engagement as a fly on a windshield.

Put Them in the Driver’s Seat

Here’s the secret; one-on-ones should be about the employee. It’s not the time for you to get a status update or lay down instructions. It’s all about them. These are regular informal conversations managers have to listen and provide support to their staff.

When you ask if the direct report has anything he’d like to discuss, chances are, you’ll hear: "nope". So you have to break the deadlock and kick start the conversation. All it takes is to ask the right questions:

Effective One-on-One Questions:

  • How’s everything going? Any problems/issues? (initial entry point to develop a discussion.)
  • Do you have any ideas to help the team improve/work better? Perhaps, there’s something that you’d like to streamline within the department? (teamwork).
  • Do you need my feedback on something you’re working on? Perhaps you’d like some coaching, etc.? (self-improvement).
  • How are things going with peers? Any issues working with team members? (interpersonal issues.)
  • Is there anything more you’d like to discuss/share? (helps probe for potential issues.)

These will help gauge direct reports’ emotional, mental, and professional state within the role.

Want additional insight? Download Easy Ways to Improve Your Company Culture


Don't Let Things Fall Through the Cracks

"I’m sorry. What did we talk about last time?"

When a direct report hears that, the ROI of 1:1s flatlines. It's true that you run a million directions and have a pile of back-to-back meetings in your managerial role. But if you want to slingshot engagement, you need to stay on top of things. A simple way to do this is keeping an ongoing record of the important things discussed during the conversation. 

Here’s how:

Set up a shared an ongoing Google Doc.

It’ll help capture action items, document what’s said, what’s due, and what’s done:




As the meeting goes, pen action actions, so you know what you need to do before the next 1:1. At the beginning of the next meeting, go over the action items with a direct report. It’ll help you both see what’s been done (cross it out) and what’s still open.

The best thing about a shared Google Doc?
It shows employees you care about their issues and take steps to solve them.

One of the key findings The Alternative Board's Pulse Survey on Culture found is that the longer a Business Owner has been in business, the more likely they believe that culture falls on their shoulders. The simplest way to improve company culture is to increase engagement with your direct reports. 

Read our 19 Reasons You Need a Business Owner Advisory Board


Written by Max Woolf

Max Woolf is a writer. He’s passionate about helping people land their dream jobs through the expert career industry coverage. In his spare time, Max enjoys biking and traveling to European countries. You can hit him up on LinkedIn.

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