The Perfect Structure of a One-on-One Meeting

Jon Birdsong by

The one-on-one meetings I used to hold were horrific. They were more or less glorified status updates. 30 minutes seemed too long and I left each one exhausted. Self-reflection, strong mentorship, and constant learning helped me identify the best way to structure a one-on-one meeting. Most recently, a Rivalry team member expressed their new found love of our structured, weekly 30 minutes. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll highlight what worked for us. Now, Rivalry team members leave one-on-ones heard, inspired and focused.

Below is not the end all be all, and many individuals have suggested the best format for one-on-ones. The following is what has worked for us and hundreds of managers we see and work with week in and week out.

The Perfect Structure | 10 : 10 : 10

  • 10 minutes for the direct report
  • 10 minutes for the manager
  • 10 minutes about the future and/or upcoming week

When you look at one-on-ones in this manner, they fly by.

10 Minutes for the Direct Report

We know the value of a one-on-one meeting, however running a productive one on one is a learned skill. The first step is to make sure the direct report is heard. Remember: the fundamental reason one-on-ones exist is to give a platform for the direct to allow them to communicate to you. The first 10 minutes of any one-on-one should be you hearing out whatever the direct report wants to talk about. It can be anything.

Rivalry Tip: apply pressure to the direct report to have their agenda for the one-on-one prepared. If applicable, have them send it to you before hand so you can be as prepared as possible. Finally, do not ask them a specific question in the first 30 seconds of sitting down. It is about them!

Many times the direct report will run over on this 10 minutes. This is okay. A key objective for one-on-ones is to build a great relationship. Better relationships yield better results. This is the top priority.

10 Minutes for the Manager

There’s no need to have a hard stop or abrupt transition into “your time.” However, if the direct report is finished covering what was on their agenda, now is your time to start asking the right questions. These questions range from culture all the way to specific skills and tactics to be more efficient at their role.

Rivalry Tip: Do not slide in the extremely casual zone. Your direct report and you both know this is a business relationship. There is a degree of professionalism and discipline required to run it. Talking about family and the weekend is absolutely normal, however, the direct report and you know the relationship is revolved around business so keep it focused and structured.

10 Minutes for the Future

If, and this is a big “if,” there is time to discuss about the upcoming week, career goals, and more, now is the time. Uncovering what they are most excited about and/or challenged about in the upcoming week. How are they tracking towards personal and professional goals? What big projects do they want to discuss and more are all part of this 10 minutes.

Take the perfect structure of a one-on-one meeting into the week and watch the relationship with you and your direct reports soar.

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  • DonHenrich

    These are excellent recommendations and will help people become a better manager even after many years in management. Since many of my meetings are with customers or prospects I also have a very structured process for those meetings and I find it very useful. One thing I’d consider adding to these meetings is one objective goal for the manager each week that is written down in advance of the meeting. A typical weakness of meetings in general is when reviewing their value to the participants or to advancing the goal the scoring is totally subjective.

  • Great tips. I’ve been using Birdsong’s meeting structure in my one-on-ones for a little while now and have seen the changes. He is the one-on-one Jedi master.