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The Value of One-on-ones

Andrew Nelson
November 27, 2020

A fundamental connection point between team members is one-on-one meetings. These meetings may help a variety of workers to maintain connection and alignment. In a remote working environment, one-on-one sessions are critical. To make the most of a one-on-one meeting, preparing a list in advance like the following may be helpful:

  • Things I want to tell you about
  • Things I want you to tell me about
  • Things you want to tell me.
  • Things you want me to tell you.
  • Things we want to explore together

More Time

When scheduling one-on-one meetings, provide more time and attention to personal connection. It may be helpful to add a buffer period to your calendar after the meeting to allow extra time if the meeting requires more time than expected. Be intentional and caring about the person. Take time to ask what is going on in their life, do they have new events, experiences, or interests. Inquire if they have done something new or exciting and have something coming up that they are looking forward to doing. When you ask these sorts of open-ended questions, there is no telling where things may lead. In the process, you may learn that adjusting work hours or scheduling times around an event or a change in routine could be helpful. Taking the time to listen and learn provides the opportunity to adapt and plan around changes that may help everyone involved.


Remote work is now synonymous with zoom, and on a one-on-one video call, you need to pay attention and focus on the other person. If you are meeting with a team member while writing an email, it is evident to the other person that you are distracted. The priority of one-on-one remote meetings is connection. To make the most of the time, it may help remove distractions from your work environment, turn off alerts, and set your phone aside.

Maintaining eye contact is a consideration, but may not be too important. During a lockdown event, a psychologist moved their patient appointments to zoom and experimented with different  configurations and settled on sitting sideways to the camera. The doctor explained how this was like the arrangement used in the office. It turns out that not facing the camera is less stressful, more relaxing and that looking directly at someone is distracting. This example shows us that we need to find our way to be comfortable in a video call which cannot be considered as normal for many of us. Many factors affect an online meeting: our usual habits for meetings, the relationship between the parties or the topic.  For myself, I know I enjoy random phone calls more these days for similar reasons. I can get up and head out for a walk w/ the dog and not interrupt the conversation. Regardless, remember to be present, intentional, and connected.

Ask Questions

If you do not ask questions, you may never know. Examples questions may include:

  • Is it clear what needs to get done
  • Am I over-scheduling your work
  • Are there other considerations surrounding your work
  • Have I been clear about the purpose around what we're doing
  • Do you have access to the information you need to do your work
  • Is there something I can change that would help you
  • Is there any confusion that I can help clear up
  • How can I improve the clarity and cadence of my communication?


Many times people need clarification but are not sure the best way to ask. Asking questions often creates an opportunity for the other person to voice problems. 


Lastly, be consistent with scheduled one-on-one meetings.  Schedule extra time in advance if possible. If possible, maintain a regular cadence, weekly or bimonthly, often work well. Most importantly, it should be a rare occasion to postpone, reschedule, or cancel a one-on-one meeting. Meeting on a regular schedule builds trust and is integral to maintaining a healthy working relationship. It is often beneficial to expand one-on-ones beyond managers and direct reports. Keep in mind, that company culture, the relationship between two people and personal habits may allow more dynamically changing schedules, but can be also a sign of weak governance of time, focus and energy. In closing, one-on-ones are the most important meetings you will have. They do not require a plan and whatever comes up is what is discussed.


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