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How To Plan a Successful First One On One Interaction With Employees

Whether you’re bringing on new employees or starting a new manager position, the first few one on one meetings are all about establishing solid foundations. They offer a perfect opportunity to set clear expectations and orient the new hires to the company’s culture. On the other hand, these meetings will help you build relationships with tenured employees and ensure the team is well aligned. Here’s a little guidance to help set you on the right track and plan an effective first one on one meeting with an employee.

Why Does Your First One-On-One Matter

An HBR study has revealed that employees quit their manager or boss, not their job. They want to work in a thriving, self-regulated, and encouraging environment. And when they feel like the company doesn’t understand them, they start looking for an organization that could cater to their desires better. 

The first one on one meeting with an employee is essential for setting the tone and the course for long-term performance, engagement, and employee retention. In addition, it’s the best way to make your employees feel welcome and create a sense of belonging in your organization.

Prepare Your One-On-One Meeting Structure

Regular one-on-one meetings are informal, but if you want to make the dedicated time productive and impactful, you should go into them with a plan. Here are a few pointers to consider when structuring your meetings:

Find the right location — For your one on ones, it’s crucial to pick a setting that feels secure and private. Don’t host them in the lobby or kitchen of the workplace. Reserve a meeting spot that will be a safe setting for delicate conversations. In your initial one on one meeting, you might not discuss anything delicate, but later on, you will. 

For remote one on one meetings, it is simpler because video chat immediately creates a more private environment for conversation. However, be careful to hold the video call in a private area. Also, inform your direct report if someone is nearby. You don’t want to have the employee confide in you and then be shocked to learn that somebody overheard and destroy the trust.

Let the employees know how the meeting will run — Send direct reports via email explaining the expectations and the goal of the meeting. Use a simple list of bullet points to let them know which topics will be discussed and what needs to be accomplished, so they can prepare for the one on one meeting and be more productive.

Start with a few get-to-know-you questions — Ask several warm-up questions that can help you get to know each other better. Ask them how they are feeling, how the onboarding process is going, and what they enjoy in their work role. It’s crucial to make them feel safe and be honest, so to build trust, share some things about yourself as well. 

Discuss challenges and work-related issues — If an employee expresses worry, find out why they are having trouble. Pay attention to their responses and use them as a learning opportunity. Rather than telling them what to do, make a commitment to working through the issue together.

Hold them accountable — Establish standards for what excellence looks like in your organization and inform them that you’ll maintain constant follow-up.  

Create action items — Your employees will be better able to stay focused on priorities and progress at a faster pace if you establish clear expectations and deadlines.

Set up a document — Using a simple Google Doc will help keep records of your conversation from the first day. You can use it to communicate agendas, take notes, record decisions, and keep track of feedback. Keeping all this data in one place will ensure you and the employee are aligned and working. It’s also an excellent method for avoiding miscommunication and ensuring accountability. Lastly, it will make your future meetings easier as you’ll have past discussions to reference and look into the most critical issues. 

One-On-One Meeting Template Examples

The first 1 on 1 meeting is about setting the tone for your relationship. Using one on one meeting agenda templates can help you structure and conduct a successful meeting. In addition, efficient, development-oriented one on one meetings can improve the team culture, boost employee engagement and performance, and build a constructive feedback culture. For your first one-to-one meetings, you can use the following template:

  • 1 on 1 meeting with: [Name]
  • Date and Time: [When will the meeting take place and the estimated start and end time]
  • Location: [Where the meeting will be held] 
  • Objective: [Establish a productive work relationship and ease the onboarding process] 
  • Warm-up questions [Talking points and estimated duration] 
  • Questions about the role  [Talking points and estimated duration] 
  • Career development goals [Talking points and estimated duration]
  • Action items [What are the next steps]

20 Questions for One on One Meetings

Even though the one on one meetings are driven by the employee’s specific needs, you should have a clear idea of what you’ll cover. Outlining a meeting agenda can help you guide your discussion and ensure you cover critical items. You’d want to cover some base points such as:

  • Introduction and get-to-know-you questions
  • Potential issues with onboarding
  • Expectations
  • Goals and career advancement

Here are 20 basic questions that can help you set the proper foundation: 

Warm-Up Questions

Considering that this is your first one on one meeting with an employee, you should invest some time in getting to know your team member on a personal level. Learning about your new employee’s hobbies and favorite things can give you a base for finding common ground and establishing trust. In addition, these meeting questions can also help you understand the employee’s greatest talents, personality, and interests. This data can also be beneficial for managing and engaging them more effectively in the future. Ask them:

  • What are your interests and hobbies? 
  • What’s your favorite thing to do in your free time? 
  • What do you excel in?
  • How would you describe your ideal work setting?
  • Name the things that make you feel appreciated at work?
  • What do you like about your role?
  • What are the things you would like to learn about me?

Questions About the Role

During your first one on one meeting with an employee, learn about how the organizational socialization process is going. Getting them to share feedback can help you uncover their potential issues and areas that could be improved. Asking these questions can help you provide a smooth transition and a more positive experience:

  • How was your experience at work this first week?
  • Is there anything that has surprised you?
  • How do you like the team dynamics?
  • Which aspects of the job do you find challenging?
  • Do you need additional information about something? 
  • Do you need more resources so that you can do your job successfully?
  • Do you feel a real connection with the team?

Career Conversation

The primary focus of a first in-person meeting is to lay the foundation for establishing a good relationship with the employee and give them a proper orientation. You shouldn’t focus too much on the performance review, status reports, and career path. However, understanding the employee’s career aspirations and long-term plans can give you valuable insights into how you can help their professional development and align their career goals with your organization’s strategy. Here’s a list of questions to ask them:

  • What are the accomplishments of this quarter you’re most proud of?
  • How are you measuring the progress of your goals? 
  • What are your plans for the year to come?
  • Where do you imagine yourself in five years? 
  • Are there any obstacles standing in the way of your success?
  • What can I do to help you accomplish your goals?

The Bottom Line

Now that you know how to plan the first one on one meeting with an employee, you can be confident you’ll make the time count and have a productive conversation that will set the tone for a successful collaboration. Remember to choose a meeting time, date, and location that work for both parties, create an agenda, and enter each meeting with a plan and prepared conversation points to make the most out of it.