What questions great managers ask people in 1-on-1s part I

The Mesh Team
Published on 
Apr 27, 2023
Manager 1-on-1s drive employee engagement, performance, and a sense of belonging. Here's part I of our curated list of questions great managers ask their people.

The only question library for 1:1s you’ll ever need—Part I.

In “1:1s simplified”, we shared with you some ideas on how effective managers approach their 1:1s, including tips on things to do before, during and after your next session.

We’ve seen many managers beginning to realize the importance of regular 1:1s in the ongoing development of their team members, but more often than not, these meetings are ineffective and can feel like a waste of time. Pointless status updates on progress you could be recording asynchronously (tools like Mesh were designed for this), extended small talk about “how things are going”, and frequent cancellations are just a few of the symptoms of ineffective 1:1s.

What NOT to say in your 1:1!

Has this happened to you before? Why is such an important tool so poorly used, even in the rare instances it is used at all?

If you (or your team) are still not getting value from your 1:1s, and need a little more coaching on how to structure your next conversation, this library of questions on key must-cover topics just might be the thing you need.  

1. Questions to build trust

The foundation of any good manager and team member relationship is implicit trust and rapport. If your team doesn’t feel like you care about them as individuals, they’re unlikely to be inspired by you.

This chart from Gallup powerfully summarizes that fact.

In our introduction to 1:1s, we shared how the first 5-10 minutes are usually spent in an informal catch up. While some may brush this off as small talk, using this time to ask 1 or more of these thoughtful and directed questions can help you build a deeper emotional bond, especially so when everyone is working remotely.

  • How are you? How is life outside of work?
  • How do you feel your work/life balance is right now?
  • What’s one thing we could change about work for you that would improve your personal life?If entering / coming out of a weekend: any plans for the weekend / did you do anything fun this weekend?
  • If around a holiday: What did you do to celebrate [Holiday]? How was it?
  • How are your parents/grandparents?
  • If they have children: How is [name of child] doing? (Ask something related to their age like starting school, playing sports, or other interests.)
  • What did you do for fun in the past that you haven’t had as much time for lately?
  • For the seasoned coaches: What is your rhythm? (A great lesson from Marissa Mayer)

The next 15-20 minutes should usually be employee led, i.e., your only responsibility is to listen open mindedly without judgement and ask relevant, clarifying questions if need be. If you find your employees coming short of talking points for this duration, you might not be doing enough to co-create an agenda (learn about agenda-starters here) or have enough savings in your ‘trust bank’ for them to be ready to open up to you.

Don’t fret, luckily these things become easier with practice, so just remember to be consistent with your 1:1s and proactively work on creating the right environment for your team members.

The third section of your 1:1 gives you the opportunity to share your notes and inputs. You might like to use this time to ask:

2. Questions to share feedback

We shared with you the undeniable importance and power of continuous feedback in today’s world of work. If you haven’t taken the time to share feedback yet, this would be a great time to start. For feedback to be effective, it has to be delivered in the right way. Try out 1 or more of these questions to help you get the ball rolling.

  • Do you feel you’re getting enough feedback? Why/why not?
  • What’s a recent situation you wish you handled differently? What would you change?
  • What’s an area of your work you want to improve?
  • What aspect of your job would you like more help or coaching on?
  • How many hours a day do you feel you’re productive? How could I help you be more productive?
  • If you’re nearing a mid-year or year-end review: How has the feedback I shared with you in the past few months helped you improve? Are there areas you feel we haven’t addressed?
  • For pros: tie feedback to areas they’d like to improve, such as amping up their attention to detail / scripting their presentation storyboard if they want to improve their presentation skills / get more opportunities to present to clients.

While this 1:1 session is about the individual, don’t discount the importance of asking for upward feedback as well.

3. Questions to improve team dynamics

You will be surprised by the number of invaluable insights you could get about improving team engagement, culture and even performance by just taking the time to ask! By involving your team in your efforts to improve team culture, you’re not only building a greater sense of ownership and belonging but also ensuring you’re being inclusive and minimising your subconscious biases by respecting diverse perspectives. Here are some questions to get you started.

  • How could we change our team meetings to be more effective?
  • Do you feel you have too much on your plate / are under-worked / or have just the right workload?
  • Do you feel like you’re on the same page with the team? How often do you think you need meetings to ensure you stay that way?
  • Are there any meetings or discussions you feel you should be a part of that you’re not?
  • Who would you like to work more often with? Why?
  • What do you like most about working on our team?
  • Do you help other members of the team? Do others help you when you need it?
  • Are you uncomfortable giving any of your peers constructive feedback? If so, why?
  • What’s 1 thing we could do to improve our virtual work environment for the team?

4. Questions to build accountability

While these questions might sound great on paper (or your laptop!), frequent 1:1s are pointless if not balanced with action between the conversations as well. No matter which of these questions above you picked for your next conversation, make sure you end the conversation by asking:

  • What will you do to take action on what we talked about today?
  • What can I do to help you make progress on what we talked about today?

Like most things in life, your 1:1s will get better with practice as long as you’re committed to them. Leverage these and you (and your team) will find purpose and value at work not found in any other way before.

For maximum impact sign up for Mesh today and initiate, structure, and record notes for your 1:1s plus much more, all in one easy to use platform.

About the Author

The Mesh Team is a diverse group of passionate professionals at Mesh, dedicated to transforming the world of performance management. Together, we aim to provide you with valuable insights, strategies, and knowledge to empower your journey toward achieving exceptional performance in your organization.
The Mesh Team
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