One-on-one meetings are a valuable opportunity for managers and direct reports to connect, share feedback, and plan for the future. However, if these meetings are not well-structured and focused, they can easily become boring and unproductive status updates. So, to help you prepare for your 1:1 meetings, we’ll guide you through 16 valuable questions to ask employees. With these questions, you’ll be able to achieve various goals, such as giving and receiving feedback, coaching and mentoring, setting and reviewing goals as well as building trust and rapport.
Why are 1:1s Important?
Only 32% of employees in the U.S. are engaged at work.  One of the main reasons for this low engagement is the lack of feedback and recognition from their managers. If employees receive regular feedback from their managers, they are more likely to be engaged, loyal, and satisfied with their work.  These statistics show the importance of feedback and how it can go a long way in motivating your employees.
Holding 1:1s helps you to:
- Understand the needs, expectations, and motivations of your employees and provide them with personalized support and guidance.
- Monitor the performance, progress, and impact of your employees and provide them with timely and constructive feedback and recognition.
- Identify the strengths, weaknesses, and potential of your employees and help them develop their skills, competencies, and career paths.
- Build trust, rapport, and loyalty with your employees and create a culture of openness, honesty, and collaboration.
How to Do 1:1s Effectively
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to 1:1s, as employees may have different needs, preferences, and styles. However, some general guidelines can help you conduct effective 1:1s with your team:
Setting the Stage
Create a safe and open environment for discussion by choosing a suitable time, place, and format for the 1:1. To make sure that you have a successful meeting, you need to do the following.
- Schedule the 1:1 in advance, preferably at a regular interval (e.g., weekly or bi-weekly), and communicate the purpose and agenda of the meeting to the employee.
- Choose a comfortable and private location for the meeting. If it is offline you can use a meeting or conference room. If it will be virtual choose a reliable online platform like Google Meet or Zoom depending on both of your preferences.
- Gather relevant data like employee information, and current projects they are working on, before the meeting, review the previous notes, and set an agenda before the meeting so that you have an outline of how the meeting will go.
Rapport is the key to building a strong relationship between you and a team member. If your employee feels that you are interested in them as a person, not just as a worker, they will be more willing to work hard for you. So how do you build this rapport? You can do it by:
- Greeting the employee warmly and asking some casual questions about their personal or professional life. For example; How are you feeling today? How was your weekend? How is your project going?
- Share some information about yourself to create a rapport with the employee. Like; What did you do during the weekend?
- Listen attentively and empathetically to the employee’s responses and show appreciation for their time and effort.
This is where the real meeting begins as you start to explore different topics from goals, to performance assessment, to support and career growth and feedback. Here is how to set it up:
- Start by using the agenda that you created before the meeting as a guide to explore different topics with the employee (e.g., goals, performance, feedback, and support.)
- Ask open-ended questions that encourage the employee to share their thoughts, feelings, opinions, or experiences. For instance; What are you most excited about in your current project? What are some of the challenges that you are facing or anticipate? How do you feel about the feedback that you received?
- You should also provide feedback, insights, or suggestions to the employee in a constructive and balanced way. For example; I liked how you handled that situation with the client, I think you could improve your presentation skills by practicing more, and I have some ideas on how we can optimize our workflow.
- Avoid interrupting or judging the employee’s responses and instead seek to understand their perspective.
This is the stage when you agree on specific actions, responsibilities, and deadlines for you and the employee to follow up on the discussed topics. Here are the things you need to do:
- You should summarize the key points of the discussion and confirm with the employee any actions that need to be taken. Such as; I will send you an email with more details on that project, You will complete that task by next week.
- Assign clear responsibilities and deadlines for each action and document them for future reference (e.g., I will be responsible for reviewing your report and providing feedback by Friday. You will be responsible for implementing the feedback and submitting the final version by Monday. You should also ensure that the actions are realistic, achievable, and measurable.)
Closing the Loop/After Meeting
This is where you end the meeting and schedule the next 1:1. There are things you need to do at this stage, which include:
- Express your appreciation and support for the employee’s work and development, (e.g., I appreciate your hard work and dedication. I am here to support you in any way I can.)
- You should also state when the next 1:1 with the employee will be and remind them of the actions that they agreed on.
- Send a summary of the meeting notes and action items to the employee. Ask them to confirm or correct any details.
16 Questions to Ask Employees During One-on-One Meetings
These questions are designed to help you better understand your employees’ goals, assess performance, provide support, and receive feedback for their development. This way, you can address all the key topics and prevent your meetings from becoming boring. Let’s get to it.
1. Goal Setting
The first thing to do in your one-on-one meeting is to ask your team member about their short-term and long-term goals. Listen to their passions and desires and help them see how they align with the team’s or organization’s vision. This fosters a culture of growth and development. Here are four questions that are focused on understanding and supporting employees’ goals:
What are your key objectives for the upcoming quarter, and how do they align with our team’s targets?
- This question helps ensure that the employee’s personal goals contribute to the broader team and organizational goals.
Can you describe a long-term professional aspiration you have and how you plan to work towards it?
- Understanding long-term aspirations allows you to provide guidance and opportunities that align with the employee’s growth path.
Are there any skills or knowledge areas you’re aiming to develop, and how can I assist in that process?
- These questions can help you get insight into employee career growth and see how you can support them with resources or training opportunities.
How do you balance your short-term and long-term goals, and how do you prioritize your tasks?
- This question helps you understand how employees plan and organize their work, and whether they need any guidance or support in managing their time and resources.
2. Performance Assessment
Performance assessment is an important part of performance management, as it allows you to evaluate your employee's progress, identify strengths and weaknesses, and plan for future development. According to a survey, 24% of workers would consider leaving their jobs if they have managers who provide inadequate performance feedback.  Moreover, 30% of performance reviews end up decreasing employee performance , indicating that many managers lack the skills or tools to conduct effective evaluations.
Asking regular performance assessment questions helps you recognize achievements and address challenges promptly. Here are four questions to ask employees to facilitate this.
What accomplishments from the last month are you most proud of, and what impact did they have on our team?
- Acknowledging accomplishments reinforces positive behavior and highlights contributions to the team’s success.
What challenges have you faced recently, and how have you addressed them?
- This question gives you insight into any obstacles they are facing and allows you to offer solutions or support.
In what ways do you feel your work has evolved or improved over time, and what factors contributed to this growth?
- Reflecting on growth encourages continuous improvement and helps identify successful strategies or behaviors.
How do you handle feedback, and what kind of feedback do you find most helpful or motivating?
- This question helps you learn about the employee’s feedback preferences and styles, and how they use feedback to improve their work.
3. Providing Support/Career Growth
Career growth is the most desired perk that people want at work, according to various studies by reputable sources. For example, a Gallup study found that 87% of millennials, who are the largest generation in the workforce, rate “professional or career growth and development opportunities” as important to them in a job. 
Similarly, a Deloitte survey revealed that 42% of millennials are likely to leave their organizations because they are not learning fast enough.  These findings suggest that you should pay more attention to providing your employees with opportunities to grow and learn in their roles, as well as to align their career goals with the organization’s vision and mission.
By doing so, you can increase your employee’s engagement, productivity, and retention. Here are four questions aimed at identifying how you can better support your employees and their careers:
What resources or tools would make your job easier or more efficient?
- This question uncovers potential gaps in resources that, if filled, could improve productivity.
Is there a particular area of your work where you feel additional training or support would be beneficial?
- Targeted support can help your employees overcome specific challenges and enhance their capabilities.
How can I better support you in achieving your goals and navigating any workplace challenges?
- Directly asking how to provide support ensures that you address the unique needs of each employee.
How do you cope with stress or pressure at work, and what can I do to help you reduce or manage it?
- This question helps managers identify any signs of burnout or dissatisfaction among their employees, and offer them strategies or resources to enhance their well-being.
4. Feedback and Development
One-on-one meetings are a great time to discuss feedback with your employees, both giving and receiving. Because this takes place in a private and trusting space, you can be honest and open with each other. You can also explore the feedback in depth and make sure you understand each other’s perspectives. This can prevent the negative reactions that can happen when feedback is given in public. To start a feedback discussion with your employees, you can use some of these questions:
How can I improve my management style to better support you and the team?
- Soliciting feedback on management practices demonstrates humility and a willingness to grow.
What actions can I take to foster a more collaborative and positive team environment?
- This question shows the manager’s commitment to creating a healthy workplace culture.
Are there any decisions or actions I’ve taken that you think could have been handled differently?
- Encouraging critique of management decisions fosters an open culture where feedback is valued.
What are some of the things that you appreciate or enjoy about working with me and the team?
- This question helps you elicit positive feedback and reinforce the strengths and values of your team.
By using these templates, you can conduct meaningful 1:1s that not only enhance your team’s performance but also contribute to your leadership development. Remember, the goal of these questions is not just to gather information but also to act on it, creating a dynamic work environment where continuous improvement is the norm.
In conclusion, conducting regular 1:1 meetings with your employees is important for effective management and fostering a positive work environment. As a manager. if you ask the right questions, you can gain valuable insights into your employees' needs, aspirations, and concerns, ultimately leading to increased engagement and productivity. These 16 questions to ask employees during one-on-one meetings provide you with a starting point for meaningful conversations that promote open communication, strengthen relationships, and drive team success. By consistently implementing these practices, you can create a culture of trust and support, ultimately leading to happier and more motivated employees.