One-on-Ones: One Size Does NOT Fit All

It’s a new year, which means it’s time for that fresh new calendar.  For a very brief moment in early January, it was wide-open, before people started marking off an easy “first-of-the-year” task: scheduling and rescheduling those dang recurring meetings.

If you are a manager, a number of your recurring meetings are probably “one-on-ones.” As a rule, it’s definitely a best practice. Google one-on-one, and you’ll find that the first definition is: “playing directly against a single opposing player.

The phrase “one-on-one” has its roots in sports – two players going head to head. But I really love the alternate definition that describes a “direct encounter between one person and another.”

Too often, managers conduct one-on-ones as one-way communication funnels: 

Scenario 1: Manager half-way listens and nods as their employee runs down a list of things they’ve done since the last time they met.

Scenario 2: Manager uses all the time to dictate everything the employee should be doing, pausing briefly at the end of the meeting (as they’ve already turned back to their computer) to say, “Anything else?”

Even if you’ve already got the appointments scheduled, take a few moments to reflect and revamp your one-on-one game this year. Here are a few ways to make it less of a “let’s review the daily tasks” activity and more of an encounter BETWEEN two people.

Consider each individual employee

Employees have different styles and personalities. Some people may LOVE a chance to meet with you and tell you ALL about their work (and their weekend, and their love life, and anything else you want to know about), while others DREAD this regular check-in… why should they have to meet with you to report on all the things you should already know?  One-on-ones should NOT all be created equal. Design a meet-up that fits with your employees style, and you’ll both be pleased with the outcome.


I remember when I first became a manager, I scheduled all my one-on-one meetings for every 2 weeks. Why did I do that? Because that’s what MY manager had done! Consider what YOU need, and actually ASK – what your employee would prefer. One employee may prefer to meet weekly, while another may prefer a monthly check-in.


Would your updates be more productive in a different location? The manager’s office is typically a more formal setting, so it might be perceived as a more serious meeting. On the other hand, if you have an open-office environment, and usually meet in the open space, there may be things the employee wants to discuss in a more private setting.  One of my managers conducted all of her one-on-ones offsite. We didn’t go far – usually just to a local coffee shop, or a working lunch – but the change of scenery made it feel “special” to me. She paid attention to MY preferences, and as a result, I felt appreciated and was eager to meet with her.

Virtual One-on-Ones

But what if my one-on-ones are virtual? Remote employees can’t do much about changing the location. But you might be able to change the format a bit and make it “feel” different from all the other virtual meetings. If you meet in the morning, make it a coffee meeting. If it’s a nice day (for both of you), turn off the cameras and make it a walking meeting. I remember at the height of the pandemic, when we were all experiencing zoom fatigue, one of my peers and I decided to change our meeting to a phone call. It was such a relief – neither of us had to worry about our virtual backgrounds, and we were able to really focus and LISTEN to each other. I still love making eye contact and seeing facial expressions, but for that one meeting, one small change made our connection even stronger.

One of the first rules of design thinking is to keep the customer at the center of your solution. For one-on-ones, managers need to keep the employee at the center of your check-ins. Give them the time and the attention, and your one-on-ones can turn into truly meaningful conversations.

Need more ideas for making meaningful connections with employees? Contact M2C2 to learn more about coaching and consulting for leaders and teams!