Running Effective One-to-Ones

I’ve run one-to-ones for a couple years now I realised I didn’t have a good plan for how to run them effectively, and weirdly there didn’t seem to be a lot of discussion written up about them that I could find online.

I spoke with some colleagues who pointed to the Manager Tools Basics podcast which has a set of episodes totalling around 90 minutes on the subject at hand. They are however seemingly recorded in 2005 which makes them over 15 years old. This lines up with the banner at the of the webpage. While this does seem old and despite pandemics and changes in technology it seems to hold up for the most part. The issue though is that for one, they are very verbose and second, the information isn’t replicated online.

What I wanted to do here is to pull out what I found the most important so that others can run their own effective one-to-ones without having to dedicate 90 minutes to listen to a podcast. This is a condensed view of what to do. If you want the complete explanation of why you do this I would recommend listening to the podcast itself.

In the podcast they refer to the person who works for you as your “direct”. I don’t really like the term, but I can’t think of a better one, so I’m going to re-use it.

Where and when#

  • Run your one-to-ones weekly. As the manager put it in your and the directs calendar. You can move it, but don’t miss it.
  • No more than 30 minutes. An hour is too long.
  • Run it in space where the direct feels comfortable

What to discuss (Agenda)#

  • Your directs views: 10 minutes
  • Your views: 10 minutes
  • The future: 10 minutes

Don’t rigidly stick to the agenda. If your direct wants to spend more time talking about their views then that’s their prerogative. This is their meeting.

Your views might be about how interactions in the team are working, or not. The future is about where they are heading. Are they looking to move on? Or stay?

An important note is that you, as a manager, should have a broad opening question. In the podcast they suggest “How’s it going?”.


I disagree somewhat with this agenda. It seems to lean towards on the manager’s view. The important thing is that your directs have a voice and you understand their wants and needs. If they want to talk for the entire time that’s up to them. It’s a two way street anyway and an opportunity for coaching.

I personally would avoid the Joey Tribbiani comparison and possibly ask “How are things?” but has roughly the same meaning.

The other thing to note is that as meetings go, one-to-ones are deceptively straight-forward. They work better when you don’t over think them. Other than scheduling you almost let your directs run them themselves.

Other than that I was quite happy to get this insight.