Hosting 1:1s as a CEO: 9 Best Practices [+ Free Templates]

Learn how to strengthen relationships with your employees and make an impact through one-on-one meetings as a CEO.

It should come as no surprise that one-on-one meetings with direct reports can positively impact all aspects of your company. When leaders have strong and healthy relationships with employees, the entire business benefits. Employees who buy into their CEO’s vision for the future are also more loyal and productive. 

One of the most important aspects of business is relationships. But building great relationships is easier said than done. Fortunately, one-on-one meetings are an excellent, efficient way to build meaningful relationships with individuals at all levels of your organization. 

Let’s explore why chief executive officers (CEOs) like you should prioritize one-on-one meetings, best practices for hosting effective meetings, and our free one-on-one meeting templates. 

Why should CEOs have regular one-on-ones?

1To develop stronger relationships with employees

The most successful companies have effective processes that allow leaders and employees to communicate openly. If you want to develop a strong relationship with your colleagues, add one-on-ones to your weekly meeting roster. Consider this meeting a moment of connection and devote your full attention to your employee to improve your rapport with them. When you take time out of your busy schedule to devote your full attention to a direct report, answer questions, and give meaningful feedback, you create a positive energy that should last long after the meeting ends. 

Run efficient 1-on-1 meetings, come to a decision, and get back to work

A well-run one-on-one meeting can foster communication and collaboration by including an agenda that everyone can contribute to. Try using a tool like Fellow!

2To address roadblocks and/or potential issues

Your employees will appreciate the opportunity to work through high-level problems with you. One-on-one meetings are a great venue to take on big questions and tackle major issues. Ask your employees to come to the meeting prepared with questions, possible solutions or things they’ve tried so far, and any helpful additional context. Then, use your meeting time to go through the problem-solving process with them. 

Don’t forget to strike a balance between asking questions and listening. The goal of the meeting shouldn’t just be to solve the problem at hand but to make your employee a better problem solver overall, too. 

3To provide a space to give and receive feedback 

A strong work culture begins with regular feedback. One-on-ones are a good chance to give your direct reports constructive and positive feedback; they’re also an opportunity to ask for feedback yourself. Before the meeting, prepare what you want to say that will help the employee reflect on their recent performance. Focus on behavior rather than personal traits. For example, instead of saying, “You never notify me when there is a major problem within your team,” you can say, “I would find it helpful if you kept me in the loop moving forward so that I can better understand what happens in your department.” Ensure the feedback you give is actionable so your employee knows how to move forward. 

4To coach employees

Your one-on-one meetings can double as coaching sessions to help your employees work through their ideas, frustrations, and goals in a safe and structured format. Coaching will help your direct reports build confidence and resilience, and improve work performance. 

Use one-on-ones to help direct reports achieve a deeper level of learning. Through coaching, an employee can learn more about themselves and improve on areas of their personality and work performance with which they aren’t currently satisfied. 

5To strengthen company culture 

Did you know that recurring one-on-ones are one of the best ways to signal to your direct reports that their contributions at work matter? By hosting one-on-ones on a recurring basis, you’ll build trust with your team. 

One-on-one meetings take a lot of time, but the investment is worth it. One-on-ones can positively impact team dynamics by helping individuals establish clear priorities and determine their place within the larger company. When the company culture is strong, employees can hold each other accountable and work towards collective decisions. 

Best practices for effective one-on-one meetings as a CEO

1Prepare and follow a meeting agenda 

Every meeting should have an agenda, and one-on-ones are no exception. Before each meeting with a direct report, create a collaborative meeting agenda that includes a list of topics, talking points, action items, and activities you want to discuss during the meeting. The meeting agenda should give your one-on-one a clear purpose, empower everyone to contribute, and allow you to stay on track. Share the agenda at least 24 hours in advance so that both parties can add notes. During the meeting, clarify expectations and responsibilities you can refer to once the meeting ends. 

Fellow’s easy-to-use meeting agenda can take your one-on-ones from disorganized to focused. Use our one-on-one meeting templates to foster positive working relationships with direct reports, set expectations, and help your team increase its productivity.

2Be an active listener

Active listening means listening and responding to another person in a way that improves mutual understanding. Practice active listening by paraphrasing the other person’s message, refraining from interruption, and using non-verbal cues like head nods and facial expressions throughout the conversation. Show your employee that you’re fully engaged by removing distractions, taking notes, and asking questions during the meeting.

3Let your direct reports lead the conversation 

One-on-one meetings are a chance for you to set goals, chat about progress on tasks and projects, and work through challenges with your direct reports. Give your employees the chance to lead the conversation by asking guiding questions that encourage them to speak up on matters that are important to them. Fight the urge to interrupt and let them know from the beginning that this is their meeting. 

4Schedule one-on-ones as recurring meetings 

Setting a recurring meeting time will hold you and your employee accountable for action items and objectives discussed during the meeting. Employees who have regular one-on-one meetings with their managers are three times more likely to be engaged at work

“The important part of regular one-on-ones is not that information is conveyed, but about you being consistent as a leader. What is more important than trust and respect in all directions on a team? A one-on-one over time will show your team that you care about that.”

— Michael Loop in episode 8 of our Supermanagers podcast

5Make time to check in on your direct report’s well-being 

One of the first questions you ask during each one-on-one meeting should be “How are you feeling?” Using a quick check-in can set the tone for the meeting and help you determine your priorities. For example, if your employee tells you that they’re experiencing feelings of burnout or are overwhelmed with their workload, it may not be a great time to pile on constructive feedback. Your priority should be making each direct report feel psychologically safe

6Ask your direct report career development questions

Have conversations with your direct reports about career progression long before you begin discussing promotions. Ask your employees about their ideal career trajectory and help them map out a clear path to reach their goals. Give them practical tips and advice for progressing to the next level of the company if that’s what they want. 

7Express gratitude

Don’t be shy to give positive feedback and deliver words of thanks to employees during your one-on-one meetings. The next time you note that an individual has gone above and beyond to ensure a project is successful, express your gratitude. Staff who feel appreciated feel safe, are motivated to work hard, and are better able to deal with adversity. 

8Assign clear takeaways with action items 

Your employees should leave each one-on-one meeting with clear next steps. Delegating meeting action items to your direct report will leave them with a clear understanding of what they need to accomplish to work towards larger company goals. You should also leave meetings with key takeaways and items for your to-do list. Use Fellow’s notes tool to keep an action log for you and your direct reports to update your action items in real time!

9Bonus: Download Fellow’s Chrome Extension

With Fellow’s browser extensions, you can access your meeting notes directly from your video call or calendar event with one click. Which means, that all you need to focus on is having an effective and collaborative meeting. Our Chrome browser extension has 10,000+ users and a 5/5 rating on the Chrome Web store!

Free one-on-one meeting agenda templates

Parting advice 

One-on-one meetings are time-consuming, but when done right, are worth it. There’s no better way to check the pulse of the company than to sit down with individuals and see how things are going. Additionally, one-on-ones are a great way to give and get feedback, coach teammates, and create an amazing company culture. Meet with direct reports regularly and watch as your confidence and ability to lead improve with each conversation.

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About the author

Brier Cook

Brier Cook is a seasoned communications expert with a Bachelor's degree in Journalism from Carleton University. As an Engagement Strategy Advisor for Carleton University, she leverages creative marketing to address business challenges. Her multifaceted experiences enrich her content, making it both insightful and engaging.

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