In Praise of the 15-Minute One-On-One

There are few better uses of your time than a fully focused conversation

Laura Vanderkam
Forge
Published in
4 min readJun 4, 2020

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Illustration: Justin Cassano

Every new manager learns this rule: Meet with your direct reports, one-on-one, every week or so. Every new manager also soon encounters this truth: These meetings can often feel meandering or awkward, and are easy to skip when everyone gets busy.

Similarly, outside of work, it’s easy to go days or weeks without making time for focused conversation with your friends and family. Many of us have seen our hours clipped and chopped up between homeschooling, housework, and anxiety about the state of the world. Who has time to chat?

But I’d argue that the 15-minute one-on-one — at work and outside of it — is more important now than ever. Sometimes a focused conversation, even a short one, can be the key to feeling more connected and engaged, at a time when it’s very hard to feel either.

The advice about one-on-one chats with direct reports is sound. Google’s huge manager research project found that the highest-scoring managers were the ones who met frequently for one-on-one conversations with team members. In a survey of more than 1,100 managers and 800 employees from Know Your Team, a management software company, 89% of managers said the one-on-one meetings positively affected team performance, as did 73% of employees.

But one-on-ones are hard to do well. Like all meetings, they can lack a purpose and go on too long. And while a pointless hour-long team meeting with six people will waste one hour of six people’s time, a theoretically lovely hour-long one-on-one with each of six direct reports is six hours of one person’s time — a commitment that’s very hard for a manager to sustain when other crises arise.

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Laura Vanderkam
Forge
Writer for

Laura Vanderkam is the author of several time management books including Off the Clock and 168 Hours. She blogs at LauraVanderkam.com.