How Long, How Often, and With Whom Should You Have One-on-One Meetings With?

To help you spend your time well as a leader, we've pulled together best practices on one-on-one meeting frequency and structure.

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When you decide to have one-on-one meetings with your team, you’re inevitably faced with this question: With whom, how often, and how long? Everyone? Direct reports? A cross-section of employees from different departments? Once a week? Once a month? Bi-weekly? Quarterly? Once a year? Thirty minutes? Less than thirty minutes? An hour?

One-on-one meetings can be notably time-consuming — especially if you’ve got more than 50 employees. In fact, from the data we collected surveying 125 managers, founders, and executives, we found that their #1 frustration was how time-consuming one-on-ones can be. So figuring out how who you’re talking with and the right cadence of conversations is crucial.

To get a sense of what best practices seem to be adopted across companies, not only did we survey 125 managers, but also 45 employees from different companies internationally to better understand what works well for them.

Based on this data, here are some of the most useful takeaways about one-on-ones:

Frequency

Forty-three percent of managers said that they hold 11+ one-on-one meetings in a given month. This is quite a high number, given that 77% of managers said that had 10 or less direct reports. So managers are either meeting with folks other than their direct reports, or they’re meeting with their direct reports several times a month (if not every week).

Specifically, here’s the cadence of one-on-ones that managers reported having:

  • 41% of managers say they hold one-on-ones weekly
  • 32% of managers say they hold one-on-ones bi-weekly
  • 16% of managers say they hold one-on-ones once a month
  • 8% of managers say they hold one-on-ones bimonthly
  • 3% of managers say they hold one-on-ones every six months

When we asked employees how they felt about the frequency of their one-on-ones, 80% said that the frequency felt “just right”, while 11% said it was too infrequent, and 9% of employees said the frequency of one-on-ones was too often. Eighty-percent satisfaction with one-on-one meeting frequency is quite high, so it seems holding one-on-one meetings with employees every week or bi-weekly seems to be a commonly accepted frequency.

With whom

76% of managers reported holding one-on-ones with all their direct reports – not just some of them. They were also given the option to say if they held one-on-ones with anyone else, and 47% said they hold one-on-ones with leadership team members in the company and 45.2% hold them with other employees in the company.

Based on this, if you don’t already do one-on-ones with other folks in the company who are not your direct reports, it may be worth considering doing so.

For how long

The most common duration of a one-on-one meeting was found to be 30 minutes to an hour, and 51% of managers reporting this as how often their average one-on-one meeting was. About a third of managers (33%) reported holding their one-on-ones for just about 30 minutes.

How do employees feel about this? Overwhelming positive: 96% of employees said that the duration of their one-on-one meetings were “just right.”

Curious how this plays out, in practice?

I posed the question of one-on-one frequency and structure to The Watercooler, our online community for 700+ leaders, managers and executives from around the world. Here’s what advice they had to give about holding one-on-ones:

With more than 100 employees , this content strategy leader can’t have one-on-ones with everyone. She holds one-on-ones with direct reports every two weeks, and she meets with peers and stakeholders in different teams and departments across the company every one-to-three months. One leader of a 50-person-plus organization said she conducts one-on-ones with six managers and four or five employees selected at random. This gives her a good understanding of what’s going on in the company — and not just from a manager’s perspective. The frequency is one a month.

With a company of about 25 people, one leader said she meets with four direct reports weekly for 30 minutes, and twice each week for an hour with two different employees. This ensures that everyone has the opportunity to voice long-range items.

Another leader of a small team of about 10 people said she can still conduct one-on-ones with everyone. But rather than load up everyone’s calendars with meetings, she tries to be more present and aware about what’s happening in terms of attitudes and behaviors across the team, which allows her to actively react by scheduling more one-on-ones with those who may need it most.

Based on both the data we collected and these experiences shared by Watercooler members, I hope you get a better sense of how often, with whom, and for how long you should hold your one-on-one meetings for, within your own company. But remember, every person and every team is different – so you should use these stats and stories as a baseline to inform how to do one-on-ones, not as a hard-and-fast rule. I’d confirm if what you end up deciding is indeed the best frequency and structure for one-on-ones by asking your employees, every six months or year, what their thoughts are on it. From there, together, you can make sure that the time spent with one another is truly the best use of both of your time.

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