The Quick Reference Guide to 1:1s for Small Business Owners

The 1:1 is one of the most important parts of the business cadence.

The 1:1 is what keeps your employees feeling valued and empowered, their job performance doing well, and their tasks on-point and aligned with the overall company direction.

One of the reasons it is so powerful might be because it breaks the rules of most other meetings

  • It is more discussion than meeting
  • It is owned by the direct report, not the manager
  • It ends with coaching more than action items


1:1 Benefits

The benefits of this meeting are numerous. Part of its power is that it benefits not just a single party, side, or objective… but everybody.


The employees are able to talk, changing the flow of communication from being directed, to doing the directing. It flips the natural information flow on its head and creates a pattern disrupts in the relationship.

If done right, it doesn’t only help the employee feel empowered and a key part of the organization, but it also builds a healthy relationship between the participants…. and if everyone is doing them, a healthy workplace emerges.


The discussion allows for feedback to be shared, outside of the problem. It is much easier to discuss and hear feedback when it is removed from the situation it is regarding. The conversations tend to be more objective and helpful for the employee and provide a better outcome for the employee.


Because problems are getting worked out, relationships building, and partnerships are being created, the culture of the business itself becomes strong and healthy. The business tends to experience less turnover as job satisfaction increases.


The 1:1 provides a great method of sharing tough feedback. I’ve seen managers get more and more frustrated with an individual to the point of wanting to let them go. At that point, it is very difficult to have the right conversation.

  • you are worked up
  • the problem has most likely become very large
  • Letting them go may even come as a shock to them as you have not taken the time to explain things.

The 1:1 provides a space to share smaller chunks of feedback, more often, with a great chance of being heard and seeing results. Having these micro adjustments occur throughout the year prevents many bigger issues that can develop through problem or conversation avoidance, or waiting until something is a major problem (as I have done in the past).

Furthermore, the notes you take during a 1:1 are extremely useful. Let’s say someone is looking for a raise, but you feel they aren’t quite there yet. Without the notes, it might be hard to point to a time when you clearly shared the expectation on what they need to do. However, with the notes, you can show numerous discussions that were had where you tried to share what was needed for the increased compensation. Alternatively, you might see that you were clear, in which you will improve in the feedback you give throughout the year.

Its always easier to give small nudges through the year than address massive abrupt issues once year

1:1 Format

The format for these meetings is pretty basic:

A regularly scheduled, 30-minute meeting between a manager and a direct report, which the direct report owns.

That’s it!

What’s In A 1:1

A 1:1 meeting completes a few things:

  1. Check progress
  2. Give Feedback
  3. Celebrate Wins
  4. Address Challenges
  5. Learning
  6. Coaching

The meetings themselves tend to be fluid, with the theme or feel changing from meeting to meeting. Some are celebratory while others are problem-solving, and still others are more for venting.


One of the best ways to ensure great 1:1 meetings is to have different questions lined up to use. Which ones you use will be based on the tone and direction of the meeting.

General Questions

  • What would you like to talk about today?
  • What are you proud of? Is anything blocking you?
  • Do you need any support? How can I help you?


  • Where do you think you need to improve?
  • What are your professional goals?
  • What can I do to make you more successful?


  • What does your ideal outcome look like?
  • What’s hard for you in getting to that outcome?
  • What is your biggest point of frustration right now?
  • How can I help you?


It is imperative that you come prepared for these meetings. These need to be “great meetings” for your directs, but you can’t depend on them to make them so.

I have a digital template I use to take notes on. Before the meeting, at the top, I put the date and with whom I will be having the meeting. I then list a few things for me to be able to reference during the meeting if needed.

What I do is prepare

  • a few topics that I can bring up pertinent to their role, direction, current state
  • a list of priorities for them right now. This puts me in the right head space and reminds me of the things they are working on, and their impact
  • any major news that they might not know, or should be informed of, with regard to the company itself
  • any issues that are impeding us as a business that should be addressed.

Next on my template is 4-6 big headers, under which I can take notes. These headers change, but are normally something along the lines of:

  1. Top of Mind
  2. Priorities
  3. What’s Working
  4. Challenges
  5. Goals
  6. Feedback

Finally, I have a space for things I shared - so I can reference later with them, and any action items that I or they have.

Tips on great 1:1’s

Here are some tips on making this meeting impactful

  1. It should always be the same time and frequency - this gives some regularity to it. It gives the direct report something on the calendar that they can look at, and save their ideas, questions, and issues for.
  2. It should be kept to 30 minutes - if the meeting is known to always go for 40 or 60 minutes, it will start to be dreaded and canceled. Knowing no matter what, it will only last 30, makes your team much more likely to regularly meet.
  3. It should be largely driven by them - This is their time to share, ask, and prod.
  4. Do not talk about day-to-day work - These meetings are not the time to discuss day-to-day work as you would on Slack, Email, or in the Hallway. These are a chance to pierce through everything and tackle the things that really matter to the person or the company.
  5. Take Notes - This shows your direct report that you care and are taking what they are saying seriously. These notes also funnel into much better performance reviews.
  6. Book them for 45 minutes - I have found having the buffer time just in case something important is being discussed is nice.

The reality is, there is no shortcut to great communication, healthy relationships, good partnerships, and strong culture. 1:1’s are the work you put day in and day out to achieve all of these things.

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