I have had many managers over the years, and they taught me how I want to be as a manager -- either by demonstrating bad behavior or by being stellar role models. And even though I had examples to look up to (or down to), I was a terrible manager at first. I was unnecessarily tough, I was not clear, and I thought I had to act like I knew what I was doing even though I absolutely didn't.


Now that I have more experience, I can confidently say I'm a pretty good manager now but it didn't come naturally -- I had to read books, attend workshops, and of course ask for advice from anyone I admired -- and then practice, practice, practice what I had heard to see what worked for me.

Here's just some of what I learned along the way, focused on 1-1s, a critical part of a manager's relationship with a direct report:

Effective one-on-ones:

One-on-ones are a great time to focus on your direct report, their projects, and their growth. However, 1-1s can sometimes feel like yet another status meeting or, worse, a complete dang waste of time. You’re a good manager though, and good managers don’t waste time -- they are thoughtful and impactful. The considerations below are meant to add purpose and direction to your 1-1s with your direct reports to make the time effective for their growth. Enjoy!

Overall, all one-on-ones should be:

  • Regularly scheduled

  • Rarely missed

  • Primary focused on the direct report – their projects and their growth

  • Followed up with clear notes and direction based on conversation

Scheduling Considerations:

  • Frequency: Weekly or Biweekly

  • Length: 30-60 minutes

Agenda Considerations:

Consider using one of the following agenda structures for your time together. No one agenda will work perfectly every time, so utilize new structures as needed. This will ensure you’re focusing where you need to and the 1-1s don’t feel repetitive.


  • 10 minutes for THEM

  • 10 minutes for YOU / TEAM

  • 10 minutes for DEVELOPMENT


  • Present: let’s discuss assignments, projects, tasks, any questions/needs you have around what’s on the to-do list.

  • Future: what is at least one thing that will help you do your job better in the next 7, 30, or 100 days?


  • Strengths: what are you excited for, what are you doing well, what do you want thunderous applause for.

  • Opportunities: what’s bothering you, where do you need a hand, what could I/the team do better?

How to prepare (and yes, you should prepare):

Ask yourself these questions in advance of your 1-1 with your direct report so you are sure to review the most helpful information:

  • What do my follow-up notes say I need to check in on?

  • What do I need to be sure to communicate?

  • What positive feedback can I give?

  • What opportunities for growth do I want to highlight?

  • Is there a project I can delegate to help their development?

What are some effective questions to ask?

It's important to ask a range of questions, from day-to-day projects to focus on the here-and-now, performance direction to understand critical thinking skills, and leadership opportunities to ensure growth. Here are a few to start with:


  • What have you been working on?

  • What has your week been like?

  • Could you update me on project X?

  • Are you on track to meet the deadline

  • What questions do you have about the project?

  • What projects are ahead of schedule?


  • What suggestions do you have to improve the process?

  • How are you going to approach this?

  • What is at least one thing that will help you do your job better in the next 7, 30, or 100 days?


  • Where do you think I can be most helpful?

  • What can you/we do differently next time?

  • How are you tracking to your goals?

  • What do you think the client/customer expects or is worried about?

What happens for annual reviews?

Annual reviews are key times for direct reports, but this shouldn’t be the only time performance feedback is being discussed. It’s important to check-in on progress on an ongoing basis so direct reports can adapt to feedback and opportunity areas.

  • Frequency: Check in on goals once a month

  • Resources: Review progress of direct report’s individual goals and the department’s goals or skills matrix

  • Feedback: Highlight keys wins and focus areas for improvement

  • Remember: Annual reviews should not be a time to be surprised by feedback; ensure feedback is being given well before then so direct reports can adapt and grow.

But don't forget good managers are a product of a good working environment:

If you have done everything you can to be a good manager and you feel like you're falling short, even the best 1-1s won't fix it. Here are other things to consider:

  • It takes time. It will take years to build up strong management skills.

  • Good managers aren't perfect. You'll still have off days and that's ok.

  • Good managers are managed by other good managers. If you're struggling, maybe your boss is the problem.

  • Good managers work at supportive companies. If you're still struggling and it's not your boss' fault, maybe it's just not the right company for your values and skillset.

Ok, that's it:

You now know how I have effective 1-1s with my team. If you already knew all of this, holy heck, that's great. If you found something useful, holy heck, that's great too. If you think I would get value from hearing your perspective on this or if you have questions, you can message me on LinkedIn.