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One-on-one meetings are one of the most effective ways that managers can boost their direct reports’ productivity. Gallup found that employees who have regular 1:1s with their managers are three times more likely to be engaged than those who don’t.

That increase in employee engagement has huge impacts on your business’s bottom line. When GE replaced their annual performance reviews with frequent 1:1s, they saw a five-fold increase in productivity. Other companies, such as Adobe, have seen similar results.

1:1s are capable of having such a powerful impact since they enable managers to:

  • Build trust
  • Identify and solve problems
  • Help their employees scale their careers

To yield these benefits from your 1:1s, you need to ask questions that provoke deeper answers instead of the concise, fact-focused responses that employees often give managers.

The questions in this article are intended to spark conversations so, instead of trying to ask multiple in one meeting, plan on one or two and ask lots of follow-up questions to get more insightful answers from your direct reports.
Photo of a manager having a one-on-one meeting with a direct report.

Build Trust Via Caring and Competent Questions

 To have productive relationships with your direct reports, you need to start by earning their trust. Research shows that trustworthiness is based on three factors:

  1. Competence
  2. Benevolence
  3. Honesty

To build trust with your employees, you need to display these characteristics. One-on-one meetings are an ideal environment to do so since they’re one of the few opportunities you have to connect with your employees on a personal level.

Learn More: 5 Proven Strategies to Build Trust with Employees

Keep in mind that building trust with new employees requires a different approach than sustaining trust with existing ones. Below are some one-on-one questions you can use in each scenario.

Ask these questions to earn the trust of new employees:

  • What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
  • Who inspires you?
  • What made you interested in pursuing this line of work?
  • What traits do you most value in a manager?
  • Is there anything that I can do to help you be successful?

These questions can help you quickly build rapport with new team members so that when you’re engaging with them in other contexts, they have a positive view of you.

If you’ve already established relationships with your team, you should still use your one-on-one meetings to sustain trust. Here are a few questions that will help:

  • How is your family doing these days?
  • Is there anything I can do to help with [challenging project]?
  • What can I do to be a better manager for you?
  • How do you feel about your big upcoming project?
  • Our team has the following upcoming projects. Do you have a preference which one you’re assigned?

Frequently checking in on your direct reports’ well-being and offering to better support them helps you maintain strong relationships with them by reinforcing the factors that build trust.

 

Drive Conversations that Identify and Solve Problems

While one-on-one meetings are great for building rapport and maintaining team morale, the most productive conversations you can have in them revolve around solving problems.

If you ask the right questions, you can use your expertise to help them identify the most urgent problems and solve them in a faster, more cost-effective way than they would have had they worked on it alone.

Despite the benefits, many employees are reluctant to bring up their challenges in one-on-ones. Here are some questions to drive problem-solving discussions:

  • Can you walk me through all of the steps you took that lead to [undesirable outcome]?
  • Why do you think [result] occurred?
  • What do you think would happen if you tried [suggestion]?
  • How can I help you fix this problem?
  • How does this project compare to a similar one that was successful?

Your goal with these types of questions should be prompting them to think critically about why they produced certain results and what they can do to improve. Using their answers, you can help create action plans to move forward and give them access to any resources they need to be successful.

Read More: How to Create a Successful Productivity Management System

 

Help Your Team Achieve Meaningful Success

Research shows that 68% of workers want their employers to provide them with on-going professional development opportunities and 32% of employees quit for higher-level opportunities elsewhere.

To prevent discontentment and turnover among your best employees, you need to learn what their goals are and help them achieve meaningful success.

Here are some questions to help you spark those conversations in your one-on-one meetings:

  • What do you hope to achieve in the next year? In the next five years?
  • What projects do you enjoy working on most?
  • What projects would you like to work on in the future?
  • Are you interested in receiving training on [offer them a few topics related to their role]?
  • We have a few internal job openings. Are you interested in any of them?

Using the answers to these questions, you can create employee development plans that give your top performers a clear professional growth paths within your company.

Check out our article to learn how:

How to Create Employee Development Plans that Drive Success

 

About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.

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