Monday, January 15, 2018

A Contract for One on One Meetings

One on One meetings between a manager and the people being managed are an useful tool for effective management. While “good” one-on-ones can have a variety of dynamics, and “bad” one-on-ones share certain factors. The easiest way for these meetings to go off track is to start them without a clear shared understanding of their purpose and format. We all have different expectations of what a “One on One” means based on our experience and knowledge. Being explicit about the key aspects of these meetings can help you to avoid misunderstandings and make more productive use of your time.
One way to establish common expectations is to create and agree to something akin to a Contract for One on One Meetings, either at the start of a new management relationship, or at a time when your meetings seems to be becoming less effective. Like any long-term agreement, realize that it’s subject to change as situations change. If “contract” seems too formal, think of it as an outline for a conversation.

Having been on both the manager employee side of the conversation, I’ve found the following to be the key points to agree on at the outset. Your list may be different, but I hope that this is a good starting point.

Key Agreements for One on One Meetings

A one-on-one agreement should address the following points. This agreement should allow for situational variation, but if you consistently stray too far, consider having a conversation. For some of the sections, who does something can vary. For simplicity, I specified either manager or employee in the example.


While it may seem “obvious” why you’re having one-on-ones, there are enough obvious reasons that it’s worth spelling them out. Are these meetings career focused or project focused? Often one-on-ones are focused on career conversations rather than project work (though project work might provide context). Being explicit and clear is the important thing. If you have only one conversation about one-on-ones, this is the one to have. An example of a purpose statement could be:
The purpose of these one on one meetings is to provide a regular time to check in with each other about career goals, and to understand how we can work together to help the employee achieve her goals, and for the manager to get information to help her manager better.


Agree on how frequently you will meet, who will schedule the meetings, and in what format you’ll meet. Since business and personal commitments might lead to missing an occasional meeting or two, discuss how to handle those situations. The point here is to establish responsibility for scheduling time, and to establish the priority of these meetings. For example:
The manager will schedule one on one time every two weeks (as agreed). If schedules make this hard, the manager will provide notice and try to reschedule. If we miss more than 2 scheduled meetings, we will plan to meet in person, or via video as soon as possible.
The employee will make time for the one on one meeting, and give as much advance notice as possible if there are conflicts which make attendance difficult.


This is a statement about the general agenda and how much preparation to expect. Err on keeping this to general themes so that you can keep to the format over time. It’s useful to include the following components:
  • Manager Items
  • Employee Items
  • Feedback (both ways)
  • Career development
  • Action Item Review
The Manager will come prepared with items to discuss. During the meeting the manager will offer constructive feedback, follow up on action items, and ask for feedback, and accept it in a non-defensive manner.
The Employee will come prepared with items to discuss. During the meeting the employee will provide follow up on action items, offer constructive feedback to the manager, accept feedback from the manager in a non defensive manner and commit to raising any issues that are, or may be, concerns.

Follow up

Most short meetings will result in work to be done by the participants. This section describes what will happen after the meeting to capture and follow up on action items.
The manager will summarize action items (for both employee and manager). We don’t need meeting notes or minutes in most cases. Each party will make a best effort to follow up on action items.


The idea of a “contract” for a routine meeting might seem a bit heavy weight, but some form of agreement is essential. My hope is that this can be a framework for a conversation about what a good 1:1 is, even if the details vary.

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