Productive Meetings

Who owns the one-on-one meeting agenda?

6 min read

One-on-ones are a time spent between a manager and their direct report. That's why most managers believe that the one-on-one meeting agenda should be a shared responsibility.

In our recent 2019 State of One-on-ones Report, we surveyed over 200 people managers to learn about how they approach one-on-one meetings. We asked them: 

Who owns the meeting agenda?

  • 48.5% – We both own the meeting agenda
  • 19.4% – Direct report
  • 16.3% – Me (the manager)
  • 14.8% – Me (the manager), but I wish my direct report would
  • 1% – My direct report, but I wish I would

Nearly half of the managers surveyed share ownership of the meeting agenda with their direct reports. Sharing responsibility is a great way to build trust between managers and their direct reports, however, while 48.5% of managers share the responsibility, 14.8% wish that their direct reports would take more ownership of this time.

Who should be responsible for the meeting agenda?

The short answer: Both the manager and direct report. 

One-on-ones are a private, intimate space for managers and direct reports to build trust with one another, eliminate roadblocks and challenges, discuss growth and align on goals. 

Direct reports:

One-on-ones are your time with your manager. That means that you are just as responsible for adding items to the meeting agenda as your manager, if not more. This is your time to:

  • Address up roadblocks and ask for help
  • Discuss growth opportunities
  • Take the time to seek advice and knowledge transfer when needed

Remember that your manager is not a mind reader, so use this time to let them know how you feel about the work you’re doing, the work you want to do and how you’d like to progress within the organization. 

Managers:

It’s easy to turn this time into a status update. Don’t. One-on-ones are an amazing opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your direct reports and get a better understanding of how to better keep them engaged. During your one-on-one meetings, some strategies to avoid status updates include: 

  • Prioritize the items your direct report adds to the meeting agenda
  • Talk about non-work related things (their hobbies, weekend, etc)
  • Ask probing questions related to growth and development, employee motivation and other relevant topics

Although you both own the meeting agenda, managers tend to contribute to it more. It can be intimidating for direct reports to bring up issues, concerns and requests to their manager. So, let’s talk about ways to get your direct reports feeling more comfortable and confident with contributing to your meeting agenda. 

How to get your direct report to contribute to the meeting agenda

Be vulnerable yourself

Engineer Manager at Envato, Lindsay Holmwood puts it best: 

“It’s pretty simple – you ain’t gonna open up until I open up. My actions and behaviours set the boundaries for what you think is acceptable during our 1:1s. If I want you to be vulnerable, I have to be vulnerable first.

When we’re doing our first few 1:1s, you will test the waters by volunteering a little more about yourself. These opportunities are pivotal in building trust. I have to take the opportunity to mirror back the vulnerability and go even further.”

Set the expectation that it’s your direct report’s time with you

There are several ways that you can do this, including: 

  • Prior to the meeting, let your direct report know that they are just as accountable for the meeting agenda as you. Encourage them to add any items they’d like to discuss leading up to the meeting.
  • Add a note into your meeting description, whether it’s in your calendar invite or your SoapBox, letting your direct report know what the meeting is about and what’s expected of each of you. 
Meeting agenda description

21 one-on-one questions you can send your direct report to fuel better conversations

Here’s a list of questions your employee can ask you. 

  1. How am I doing?
  2. What steps can I take right now to progress my career with the company?
  3. If I could improve one skill between this meeting and the next, which would you choose?
  4. When’s the best time to get feedback on my work?
  5. Where do you think I should be focusing more of my attention?
  6. What do you wish I did less of? More of?
  7. What of my skills do you find most valuable?
  8. How can I help train and support others in the team and company?
  9. Where do you see my role evolving in the next 6 months and 1 year?
  10. What big changes are coming down the pipe in the next 6 months?
  11. What do you wish I took more ownership over?
  12. What’s a skill you think I can learn that will help me do a better job?
  13. What learning and development opportunities are their within and outside of the company?
  14. What skills do you think our team is lacking?
  15. Do you think I contribute enough in team meetings?
  16. Where do you think my communication can be improved?
  17. What’s something you wish we did better as a team?
  18. How can I better support you?
  19. What “soft skills” do you think I excel at most? What can I work on?
  20. Are there any big projects coming up that you think I could take the lead on?
  21. What is everyone around me neglecting to share with me?

21 one-on-one questions you can ask your direct report to get them to open up more

  1. What projects would you like to work on or be more involved in?
  2. What areas of the company would you like to learn more about?
  3. What’s stressing you out right now?
  4. What skills would you like to develop right now?
  5. How was your weekend?
  6. What professional goals would you like to accomplish in the next 6 to 12 months, and what makes you say that?
  7. Do you feel you’re getting enough feedback on your work?  If not, where would you like more feedback?
  8. Who in the company would you like to learn from? What do you want to learn?
  9. If you could improve one skill between this meeting and the next, which would you choose?
  10. How can I better support you?
  11. How would you like to use your education budget this year? 
  12. What’s something you’d like to focus on more next quarter?
  13. What’s one thing you really wanted to do last quarter but didn’t get a chance to?
  14. Where do you see yourself within the team in the next year?
  15. What conferences and/or events are happening in your space that you’d like to attend?
  16. What resources can I or the company provide that would help you excel further in your role?
  17. What’s the best thing about working here?
  18. Am I providing enough clarity on our direction?
  19. Am I giving you enough feedback on your work?
  20. Where would you like me more involved in your day-to-day? Where would you like me involved less?
  21. What are your work and non-work highlights of the past month? 

For a more extensive list, check out this list of 121 one-on-one questions

One-on-ones are better when both managers and their direct reports contribute to the conversation. That all starts with the meeting agenda. 


SoapBox is a one-on-one and team meeting tool that makes it easy for managers and their direct reports to contribute to the agenda. With suggested questions, adding items to the agenda has never been easier.

Set up your next one-on-one meeting agenda with SoapBox