Sending an email saying “Let’s touch base” can leave your employees wondering if they’ve made a mistake and should prepare for a tough conversation. That’s unfortunate – inviting an employee to a touch-base meeting is precisely the opposite of a serious sit-down!

These casual meetings can be as engaging as catching up with a friend on the weekend but just as useful in a work setting. The tips below can help you prepare for your next meeting and cultivate productive, but not buttoned-up, relationships with your team members.

What is a touch-base meeting?

A touch-base meeting is time that you dedicate to catching up with an employee. This meeting should be brief and informal and allow your team members to openly ask questions, raise concerns, and share how they’ve been feeling recently.

Manager-employee touch-base meetings are also known as one-on-one meetings or catch-up meetings since these types of meetings share roughly the same purpose. You should consider inviting only one person to each of these meetings to foster transparent discussions and build rapport individually with team members. That said, small touch-base meetings with just two or three people can be effective, too.

Why do you need touch-base meetings?

A 2019 Gallup study found that managers who meet with their employees experience three times greater employee engagement than managers who don’t. Touch-base meetings are opportunities for you to establish this rapport. They build on your relationships with your employees and build trust between you and your team members.

Think about it like this: Your employees are accustomed to you making assignments, giving feedback, and setting standards for the team’s work. By holding regular touch-base meetings, you create a two-way street for communication rather than having the only say. You also show your team members you value their thoughts and opinions. The result is a frank and honest discussion that can only be beneficial.

Pro tip

Increase employee engagement with organized conversations by collaborating on a meeting agenda with Fellow.

How to have the best touch base meeting

Here are some tips to help you and the people you’re touching base with have an open conversation and collaborate on goals for the future.

1 Keep it informal

A touch-base meeting should be brief and casual to keep the conversation lively and natural. Let the people across from you see more of your “human” side than your managerial traits. Being personable can help things feel comfortable enough to lead to an honest, free-flowing conversation.

Touch-base meetings are also great for escaping the rigidity that can come with meeting in an office or conference room. Simply switching up your meeting location is a great way to more naturally touch base. Try the outdoor patio in your building, a nearby coffee shop, or anywhere else informal. You can also set a casual tone by asking icebreaker questions that set a light-hearted vibe for the rest of the meeting.

You can also go remote for ultimate comfort. Taking a meeting from home can feel less intense than going out for a cup of coffee. Yes, coffee meetings are pretty low-stakes, but your team members do still have to leave the house and actually go to them! Some folks might prefer the ease of casually segueing into meetings from home to even the lowest-key real-world spaces. Offer that option to unburden your team of any commuting or scheduling concerns.

2 Let employees set their own priorities

Each of your team members has their own way of organizing their tasks and getting their work done. That’s why, when you’re meeting with your supervisees, you should let your employees take responsibility in setting their own goals and priorities. This way, you gain an understanding of how your employees like to work while ensuring tasks get done. You’ll also allow for a sense of autonomy that can increase job satisfaction and improve overall well-being.

During your discussion, try offering suggestions on how your employee can best set and accomplish their priorities. Discussing these items with your team members can help them feel supported and give them extra encouragement to follow through on their goals.

3 Ask if there is any way you can assist

“How can I help you?” This question may seem simple, but it’s a deeply impactful way to show that you want to offer your support. It communicates to your team members that you want to be involved in your team’s work. It also brings opportunities for mentoring and coaching your team members through any challenges they share. It presents you as a resource instead of a manager who merely hands out assignments and issues deadlines.

If you can’t quite provide assistance in the ways your team members request, that’s okay! You can always connect your employees with other resources or a mentor who can further assist.

4 Always encourage workers

Like anyone, employees want to feel appreciated. However, Harvard Business School has reported that more than 80 percent of employees don’t feel recognized at work. Holding touch-base meetings can bring a great dose of gratitude and positive inspiration to your team.  During your meeting, avoid critiquing a team member’s work or addressing a late assignment in favor of encouraging, supporting, and motivating them. Ask about any challenges they’re up against as well.

Once your team member has detailed the roadblocks they’re facing, you can offer advice based on how you previously overcame any similar situations. This approach brings a sense of support to your meeting and creates positive interactions of transparency and encouragement among you and your team. Don’t forget to follow up after the meeting, so your team members know you listened and invested effort into helping them out.

5 Listen and take notes

To connect with your team members, you should put in the effort to actively listen to and understand them. Just as your team members give you the spotlight during other meetings, you should make them the focus during your touch-base meetings. Put away your laptop, silence your phone, and make eye contact. This way, you fully engage in the dialogue and give your team members your undivided attention.

Listening is truly important here, as touch-base meetings are one of the best chances you get to really learn about your team members. As they open up to you, take (literal, pen-and-paper or mental) notes about what they’re saying. This way, you’re showing them that you’re actively listening and the meeting isn’t just another item on your schedule. You can also use these notes to follow up later in ways that show you’re really invested in their work and well-being.

Touch-base meeting template

Let’s say your next touch-base meeting is your first one-on-one with a new team member or an in-depth check-in with a high-level supervisor. Either way, building your meeting from a template can help ensure you don’t miss anything important. Fellow has a template for every type of one-on-one meeting to help you create an agenda with appropriate, meaningful questions and topics.

Our templates include a list of suggested questions that can help spark productive conversation between you and your employees. You can also use them to create meeting agendas with headers that divide your meetings into focused sections and key talking points. Download a Fellow template to help fill your touch-base meetings with productive conversations.

Getting to know you

Touch-base meetings allow you and your team members to engage and connect with each other outside more rigid meetings. You’re best off going in with a clear idea of your meeting’s structure to guide the conversations and give your employees space to openly share. Fellow’s meeting templates can help you establish this structure, and our other tools can help you and your team collaborate across all things meetings. Setting relevant meeting action items, giving and receiving feedback, and reaching your objectives has never been easier.