Are your One-on-Ones Increasing Dysfunction on your Teams?

Based on an article by Debbie Elison & reprinted from

Have you ever questioned the value of your one-on-one meetings?

Most of us dutifully hold them but rarely ask why.  

Many clients say, “It’s my direct report’s time with me.  I let them talk about whatever they want to get their job done.”

While it always sounds like a great idea, it has a downside.

Leaders spend as much as 30 hours monthly in one-on-ones, building relationships, helping people grow, and improving morale.  However, many one-on-one conversations undermine the team, fuel dysfunction, and lower morale and productivity.

The first time, I realized how damaging one-on-ones were at an offsite with a team reviewing an assessment of their team’s effectiveness, which indicated that the team was struggling with a commitment to decisions.  

As we unpacked the reasons for the issues, a phenomenon unfolded that no one had realized.

The leader had allowed scope creep into the one-on-ones.  Instead of talking about the development of the employee, which is the most productive use of a one-on-one, team members had broadened them to include other things that were important to get their jobs done, such as:

      • Their opinions on important decisions.
      • Issues they were having with other team members.
      • Requests for direction and decisions on operational matters.

This scope creep resulted in individuals holding back in the team meetings and, instead, waiting for one-on-ones.  

Decisions were made in one-on-ones that should have been debated with the larger team.  Not surprisingly, the team hadn’t genuinely bought into the decisions made.

I have encountered this same phenomenon many times.  

Well-intended leaders try to do the right thing and end up causing more harm than good. 

Recently, I saw a leader believing he was doing the right thing by giving everyone attention and direction, only to realize that he was leaving most of the team out of critical conversations.  


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So, what can you do to improve your one-on-ones?


      • Identify one or two opportunities for the employee’s growth during a specific period
      • Ask for examples of the employee exemplifying those behaviours since the last one-on-one
      • Discuss progress on operational deliverables
      • Coach them on how to talk with a person with whom they are having an issue
      • Ask what you or the organization can do better
      • Mix it up from time to time and ask more significant questions of each other about how you collectively can bring more value to the organization


      • Change or cancel the meeting without providing an apparent reason
      • Change a direction or decision affecting the rest of the team
      • Be defensive about constructive feedback they give you

Review this checklist with your team so they can hold you accountable for these practices, but do not use this as a license to cancel your one-on-ones. 

He refocused them and has received accolades from his team.  

Do them right and watch your people flourish.