Effective 1:1s are more than a status report.

People (managers and non-managers alike) often think of regular direct report meetings as a time to simply give a status report and nothing else. Which isn’t entirely surprising. Considering how quickly most companies function, sometimes just touching base on status updates can feel like an achievement in and of itself.

But if you really want to make the most of your 1:1s, status updates aren’t the way to go. Knowing where each person and project stands against a certain set of timelines is helpful. But the truth is: You can get that information just as easily via a quick Slack message.

Instead, managers who want to leverage their 1:1s for true success need to switch their focus from status checks to opportunities for mentorship, coaching, exploring underlying issues, and relationship building. Because when you ask people what they look for in a manager, it isn’t “a project manager.” What people want — and need — to thrive in their careers is someone who can: build trust, increase productivity, coach them through difficult situations and help them achieve their full potential.

Your time with your team is valuable, so be the manager you wish you had and leverage this time for hands-on coaching and mentorship.

3 topics to prioritize in your next 1:1

You don’t need to cover everything, every time. But if you’re consistently touching on these subjects, you’ll be well on your way to making the most out of your time together with your direct report.

Emotional health

What most people don’t realize is: Heavy workloads are just one of several high risk factors that lead to burnout. The other top burnout risks are actually tied into much subtler issues that are critical to the way we see ourselves and our alignment with the company. Factors like values mismatch, a perceived lack of control, and a sense of community are all among the leading causes for burnout today — and these factors have only become higher risk over the last few pandemic-filled years. Check in on the emotional health of your team – regularly, if you can. Doing so will help you catch underlying concerns before they become critical issues, better understand when your team is heading towards burnout, and ensure that you’re creating an environment where your team knows they reach out if an unexpected issue comes up.. (If you’re looking for a way to make this type of feedback a regular part of your check-ins, I’m a huge fan of our Feedback Friday meetings.)

Good topics or questions to focus on in this area are:

  • Motivation – “How motivated do you feel when you start each day?”
  • Stress level – “How stressed are you right now?”
  • Job satisfaction – “How satisfied are you with your job right now?”
  • Interests and passions – “What are you most excited about at work right now?”

If these feel a little too open-ended, consider leveraging a sliding scale to guide your team through their answers, i.e. “On a scale from 1-10, how stressed are you right now?” The more specific an answer, the better. This will give you a good starting point to continue the discussion while mitigating assumptions. (One person’s definition of “fine,” could be very different from someone else’s.)


How can we make work easier and more effective? These questions focus on your report’s job and performance, with an emphasis on rooting out blockers so they can take action on mitigating them rather than having to inefficiently work around unnecessary headaches. Not to mention that getting into optimization is a great opportunity to solicit feedback and offer support, too.

Good questions include:

  • What are you spending your time on? What are your biggest time sucks?
  • What are your blockers?
  • Which priorities should we focus on?
  • What are you struggling with the most?
  • How can we make your day-to-day 10% easier?

Our work lives change month-to-month and week-to-week, so it’s important to align with your direct report regularly. Don’t just assume that one optimization discussion will eliminate all future issues. Odds are, you may find some priorities have shifted or some processes have become redundant over time. If you’re checking in on optimization regularly, you’re making sure the wheels are greased and everyone’s cooking with gas (this may be literal if you work at a bicycle-powered food cart).

Career Development & Coaching

Think of the best manager you ever had: How much career advice did they pass on to you? I’d wager quite a lot! Great managers are often great mentors. If you’re a manager, you want your employees to succeed and continue to grow, so focusing some of your meeting time on this area is especially helpful in creating an environment for them to do that.

Ideas to discuss include:

  • New responsibilities – “Let’s explore opportunities to take on new tasks and responsibilities.”
  • Growth areas – “Let’s discuss your top growth areas and opportunities.”
  • Education – “What new things would you be curious to learn or explore?”
  • Measuring current performance – “Let’s discuss how you’re performing against the expectations of your role.”
  • Measuring relationship effectiveness – “How could I better support you as your manager?”

Being a manager doesn’t mean you have to have the answers to everything. Realistically, you may not have all the skills and experience that your direct report needs to grow into. But you can — and should — focus on being a great career coach, including coaching your teams to find solutions to their challenges and flexing into new growth areas.

Here’s to more effective 1:1s from here on out!

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