Ever wondered what topics to cover in a one-on-one meeting with your manager? This one-on-one meeting template is perfect for you!
The one-on-one meeting agenda is the structure of these meetings. Some managers don’t set a formal agenda, but since YOU (the direct report) own this meeting, it’s your responsibility to make sure that nothing is left out. Having a good one-on-one meeting agenda is how you make sure you cover the right topics.
Why do you need a meeting agenda?
Setting an agenda before the meeting is essential for meeting preparation because it’s impossible to have a productive conversation if you don’t know what the agenda is! There’s nothing as embarrassing (and career-limiting) as getting asked a question that you should’ve prepared for and not knowing an answer. That’s a total novice move. In contrast, using a one-on-one meeting agenda is how you plan an expert-level meeting.
Note: Your manager may take the lead by setting the agenda. That doesn’t mean that the agenda isn’t also yours. Remember that the one-on-one meeting with your manager is your opportunity to discuss topics that you need your manager’s input on. So, don’t be shy about adding your topics to the agenda. In fact, if you offer to take over the responsibility for setting the agenda in the first place, your manager will appreciate you taking another task off their hands!
It should go without saying, but having an agenda for your one-on-one meetings with your manager is the key to an effective and efficient meeting. Creating an agenda will help you:
- Support the need to meet, by showing what topics need to be discussed,
- Keep a record of what to discuss (which will help you avoid awkward silences!),
- Keep the meeting moving quickly forward,
- Ensure nothing important gets left out and
- Show your manager that you’ve prepared appropriately!
5 Items for Your One-on-One Meeting Agenda:
1 Personal Preamble: Build a Good Relationship with Your Manager
To be honest, a personal preamble is never on an agenda (unless you count introductions!), but it would seem weird to have a meeting without a personal check-in with your manager. Remember that a key reason to have regular one-on-one meetings with your manager is to build an effective working relationship with them by getting to know and understand each other as people.
Of course, you’re going to look a bit strange if you put “personal preamble” on your agenda. The point of adding this is here is to remind you to invest in your personal relationship. Now, perhaps you’re already a very social, relationship-based, person, I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the people who are only business/task-focused or are a little bit shy, especially if you find meeting your manager stressful.
What investing in your relationship with your manager means:
- When your manager shares personal details about themselves (such as a hobby or a personal update): take note, show that you’re interested, and bring it up in the future.
- Understand who your manager is outside of work, because this will help you understand their true nature in the office.
This is also a great time for you to share information that is personal but relevant to work.
- For example: are you having a bad day at work because you’ve been caring for a sick dependent?
- Other examples include: injury/sickness, family issues, leave requirements, study requirements, etc.
This doesn’t have to go into the personal preamble if you prefer to discuss it in another section (e.g. the week ahead). The point is: if it’s going to affect your work, let your manager know!
You’re going to have to use your judgement to work out how much time to spend on a personal preamble. Remember the one-on-one is a work meeting with a tight agenda so you’ll have to balance the personal with the professional. Here are some things to keep an eye on at the very beginning of the meeting:
- If you have a social, relationship-focused manager you will find them more interested in building relationships,
- Task-focused managers can be more reserved personally and may want to get the business out of the way first. Don’t be offended if your manager seems less interested in socializing because this is about their communication style, not you,
- Some days your manager will be in a hurry and keen to get going with the agenda. Others they may seem chatty and sociable. Go with the flow, as long as you can be sure you have enough time to do what you need done!
Using the personal preamble is a good way to find out what mood your manager is in. Paying careful attention to social cues is good practice in developing your soft skills.
Your personal pre-amble is your chance to set the tone of the meeting with your manager. Arrive light-hearted, confident in your preparation and with a smile on your face and both of you will have a more enjoyable and productive meeting.
2 Your Agenda Section: Updates, Learnings, and Achievements
This is where you tell your manager what they need to know. Remember that many managers have very little idea of what you actually do on a day-to-day basis, unless you actually tell them. Use this section to give a report on what’s happened since you last met. A status update on what you have achieved and how things are going.
If there is something that you’ve done that you are proud of, then let your manager know. Many employees feel undervalued and lacking recognition, while not realizing that it’s difficult to get recognition for achievements unless your manager knows what those achievements are.
💡 What to Prepare? Be ready to discuss:
- What you’ve done since your last one-on-one meeting, especially reporting back on outstanding actions and prior priorities. Following up shows professionalism and builds trust.
- Outcomes/ Results achieved, including difficulties you’ve faced and overcome.
- Any important decisions your manager should be informed about.
- Any other FYI topics you think your manager would like to be informed about.
- This is your opportunity to keep your manager informed of risks before they become issues!
Don’t forget that if your manager has given you work to do (but you haven’t yet done it), your manager still wants to know that you haven’t forgotten about it and when you are planning to get it done.
3 Your Manager’s Section: Cascading Information, Roadblocks, and Feedback.
Although this is your manager’s section, that doesn’t mean you take a passive role and hope that your manager tells you everything you need to know. Instead, I suggest you be prepared to prompt the conversation to find out what you need to know.
- Is your manager not great at giving you or asking for feedback? Then specifically ask for feedback about your work, and suggest ways in which your team dynamics/processes could improve.
- Don’t wait for your manager to offer you help, if you need information, resources, advice or expedition then ask for what you need.
💡 What to Prepare? Be ready to discuss:
- What problems do you need your manager’s input on?
- What decisions do you need your manager to make that are beyond your authority?
- What information do you need from your manager?
- Is there any feedback you’d like to share with your manager?
Put these items onto the agenda, because this gives your manager time to think and prepare. This could be the difference between getting an answer in the meeting or having to wait a whole week for a response.
Here’s a tip that my manager told me many years ago: Always take detailed notes during your discussions with your manager.
As a manager, I can share with you that one of my biggest bugbears is employees who don’t take notes. Especially when I know that there is no chance that the employee is going to remember what they need to remember without notes. Part of listening skills is demonstrating to the speaker that you have heard their message. And taking notes in your one-on-one meeting agenda is a great way to do this.
4 The Most Overlooked Part of the One-on-One: Priorities for the Week Ahead
This is one of the most important, but overlooked parts of the one-on-one meeting. I can guarantee that your manager has a different view on priorities to you. Investing a little time every week in finding out what your manager expects of you in the week ahead is one of the best investments you can make.
In my opinion, this is perhaps the most important part of your one-on-one meetings with your manager, because this is a chance to make a decision about the future, instead of just report on the past.
Arriving at your meeting with your priorities mapped out is a pro move because it shows your manager that you are forward-thinking and have planned your work.
💡 What to Prepare? Be ready to discuss:
• The priorities and tasks you’ll be tackling in the week ahead, with specific timelines.
Don’t expect your priorities to remain unchanged – the whole point of discussing them with your manager is to make sure you are both aligned.
5 Development & Growth: Skills Development, Stretch Assignments, and Career Goals
An important part of one-on-one meetings is to speak about your growth and future career development.
- Career growth includes promotions and what your career trajectory looks like,
- But a little-understood part of growth is that development also includes your personal and skills growth within your existing role. Examples include taking over new responsibilities, asking for stretch assignments, getting coaching, and agreeing on your training requirements.
You may not have a career conversation every week, but it’s important not to ignore it because growth is an important part of your workplace happiness and job satisfaction. This is because:
- If you don’t feel like you are growing, you will get bored and feel stagnant,
- Having something to work towards is motivating,
- Being in a job that we don’t know how to do destroys our confidence,
- Doing a job that we are good at, gives us satisfaction,
- In such a rapidly changing world, if you don’t keep your skills current, you will be left behind and risk becoming irrelevant.
And not to mention that growth is important to your longer-term financial prospects through better bonuses, promotions and increases, because:
- Improving your job skills is how you improve work performance,
- Taking on new assignments increases your responsibilities and,
- Defining and working towards career growth will help your career progression.
Development isn’t always about trying to climb the corporate ladder. Development includes developing the skills you need to do the job you want to do. It’s rare that you’re matched perfectly to a job, but you can grow into doing work that is a better match to your skills and interests. To put it simply in another way: Tell your manager what work you’re good at and like doing!
💡 What to Prepare? Be ready to discuss:
- What skills would you like to develop? Is there any training that is going to improve your performance or growth?
- Would you like your manager to coach you through any problems or growth areas? (Especially where your manager is an expert).
- Have you done any training in the past week? (Let your manager know about it).
- Are there any “stretch” work assignments you would like?
- What do you think your next career move is?
Getting constructive feedback on your skills or performance can be daunting, but it’s better that you get immediate, informal constructive feedback in your one-on-one meeting rather than a formal, negative rating in your performance review. It’s essential to check in with performance expectations and develop a growth mindset 🌱.
Prepare for Your One-on-One Meetings With Your Manager Like a Pro
Investing the appropriate time in preparing for your one-on-one meetings with your manager will make you look like a meeting pro.
Remember that your manager is usually juggling many different priorities as well as managing multiple staff. You can’t always rely on your manager to do what you want them to do. But you can rely on yourself to do what is necessary to get the job done.
When you respect your manager’s time by arriving prepared, ready to move quickly through the agenda, your manager will appreciate it. Keeping the process efficient and worthwhile will encourage both of you to stick to the one-on-one meeting process.
Setting an agenda every time can get tiresome. Here’s how to make life easier with Fellow.app:
- Save your meeting agenda as a template and populate it with talking points every week, before each one-on-one.
- Set Fellow.app to carry forward your outstanding/unresolved items from the prior week.
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About the author
Keith Tatley is the founder of Manager Foundation – a site that helps managers learn essential management skills to improve work happiness and success. He’s also a reformed Chartered Accountant, yoga teacher, and current CFO at the medical device startup Rapid Response Revival.
Reach out to Keith for advice and training partnerships here.