In my last blog post, I wrote about the frequency of one-on-ones. Yet, a much more important question every manager should ask is “How efficiently and effectively do I use my and my team-members’ time during one-on-ones?”

There are unfortunately a lot of managers who spend their one-on-ones discussing matters that could well be talked about in front of other people, e.g. at a team meeting, on a shift, or anytime in an open space.

But what are the subjects that you do not want to debate in front of other people? Most of the topics that relate exclusively to an individual or his or her self-esteem should be, in my opinion, discussed one-on-one behind closed doors.

Here are a few examples of “one-on-ones’ objectives” you can set-up for yourself under normal circumstances (i.e. not if you lead a “fire-fighting team to fire” or a “battalion to war”):

1. Create “I am here for you” space

One of the most important factors in your success is building good working relationships between you and each individual you lead. This cannot be done without listening to their needs. Thus, it is important that you as a manager create a safe space in which team members feel comfortable asking questions, requesting support, or even talking about the stress of daily work.

I myself am one of those subordinates who prepares a list of questions and things to discuss at one-on-ones with my superiors. There have always been situations where I needed guidance or approval or just wanted to check that we were on the same page.

I make one-on-ones “easy” to my superiors as I ask a lot of questions and talk a lot. But what about those who sit there waiting for you to lead the discussion?

In those cases, you must facilitate discussion by asking open ended questions such as “How are you doing with the project?,” “How could I help you?,” “What bottlenecks or issues do you deal with now?,” etc.It is your responsibility to find the questions that help individuals you lead feel safe talking.

2. Provide balanced feedback

In general, it is great to share positive feedback in front of others as it boosts the self-esteem of the person appraised and might also motivate others on your team. The reverse is also true.

Sharing developmental feedback, or even criticizing an individual’s behavior, or poor results in front of a team can have a detrimental effect not only on his or her self-esteem, but also on your relationship and sometimes even on the team dynamic.

As feedback should be timely, you should provide both positive as well as developmental feedback ASAP. Still, you should wait and share developmental feedback in private, unless it applies to the whole team.

If there is no need for immediate corrective action, you can choose to wait a day or two until your scheduled one-on-one. But usually, you want to give your feedback shortly after the incident occurred, and thus, you need to reach out to the person outside the scheduled meeting.

If the company you work for has a performance management system in place, you are probably used to having reviews with your team members where you provide more concise, balanced (i.e. consisting of both appreciation and suggestions for development), and condensed feedback.

If it is not in place, take initiative and schedule a formal review among your one-on-ones at least once or twice a year. The best strategy is when you are able to connect the formal appraisal talk to the evaluation and compensation talk and schedule it in accordance with your company’s cycle for bonuses, pay-outs, salary increases, etc.

3. Set clear expectations and goals

The goal-setting process is typically part of a company’s performance management system,and thus, there might be exact expectations about how it should look. Great.

Still, outside formal performance meetings, frequently aligning with your team members on anything from expected behavior to results is an essential part of your management job.

Regular one-on-ones are a great opportunity for getting on the same page with each individual on your team. Avoid micromanaging while making sure your subordinates understand what you want from them and why.

The best way to empower others is to explain to them the expected end result, and give them an opportunity to come up with their own objectives for how to achieve it. Even if it might take longer to reach the right and SMART objective this way, the time is worth it as you help your team members understand your reasoning and why certain things are important.

4. Coach to success

You need people under you to show you their best, and coaching is a great way to achieve that.

I will write more about coaching in one of my future posts. For now, I want to stress that the coaching approach to management allows your team members to unleash their own potential.

Coaching is about guiding your subordinates by asking open ended questions without telling them what their next steps should look like.

You can use coaching techniques to achieve many other objectives, such as:

a) Develop the skills of your team members

The best result one can imagine is finding the overlap between a skill your team member wants to develop and the needs of your team or organization. However, you can use a coaching approach to help your team members develop any skill you can think of.

b) Coach your team members to resolve problems and conflicts

Everybody needs support sometimes in resolving conflicts or problems. Avoid stepping into the role of a “savior,” and coach your team members to find the best solutions themselves.

c) Make sure your team members stay engaged and empowered

This objective is connected to retention. If you want to make sure that people stay on your team, you should definitely know what their passions are at work, what they are OK with, and what they dislike doing.


You might be thinking now that it is impossible to accomplish so many objectives in a one-on-one. Well, it is not possible to achieve them all at once in a single one-on-one. But, if you do your management job well, when you turn your back at the end of a year or half a year, you will see you have achieved them all.

To me, the most critical objective for all one-on-ones is making sure your subordinates feel you are there to support them. The biggest mistake not only junior managers make is spending their one-on-ones discussing daily operation and topics that can be discussed elsewhere.

Your one-on-ones should not be about you sitting there and waiting for your subordinate to talk. It is about you asking!

When is the last time you asked your team member what their passion is at work?

If you want to improve your one-on-ones, download my One-on-one Accelerator. It will help you define gaps you want to fill in and take the first steps in achieving the desired results in managing your team.