6 Simple Questions for a Successful 1-on-1 Meeting

Published August 27, 2018


Leading OrganizationsMeetings

1-on-1 meetings are the single most valuable practice for any successful leader or manager. This brief regular check-in with your direct reports positively impacts their performance and moves the mission of your organization forward. A successful 1-on-1 is a relational investment that develops your emerging leaders and produces results for your church or business.

People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.

But what do you handle in a 1-on-1? What do you talk about at a 1-on-1? What is the agenda of a 1-on-1? I’m glad you asked!

In the next few paragraphs, I’ll give you a coaching tool that is simple and reproducible. The following are six questions that you can use at every 1-on-1 that will grow great leaders. If you can remember just 6 words, you can begin to use it starting today.

I use it with the apprentice leader of my small group. I also use it with my direct reports and I’ve used it in coaching other leaders of large churches and organizations. I will give you a word to remember; then a question that goes with that word and a brief explanation behind the genius of that question.


#1) You—“How are you?”

Never forget that at the heart of effective leadership development is a relational investment. It may sound cliché, but it’s still true: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” I begin every 1-on-1 meeting by checking in and asking, “How are you doing?” Don’t let the simplicity of this underwhelm you.

Notice over the next week how many meetings you are in where no one bothers to check in and ask how people are really doing. So, when you coach, make sure you ask, “How are you doing?” Your people will let you into their lives and tell you about their marriage, their kids, their physical well-being and more. All these things impact your people profoundly. This first question allows you to show you care before moving on to the tasks at hand.

Never forget that at the heart of effective leadership development is a relational investment.


#2) Celebrate—“What are you celebrating?”

The next question gives you a great opportunity to celebrate the successes of your direct reports. Some churches and organizations have weird cultures where if you talk about where you are winning, it seems like you are bragging. This question gives the people you are leading permission to talk about wins and you can celebrate together. You get to catch them doing it right!

Asking this question also reinforces the values and vision of your business or ministry. In addition to reinforcing values and vision, moving from “How are you?” to “What are you celebrating?” keeps the tone of the 1-on-1 very relational and positive. It’s tempting to quickly focus on what’s not working or what is broken. This question keeps the conversation focused on where the emerging leader is feeling successful.


#3) Challenges—“What challenges are you facing?”

The next question is, “What challenges are you facing?” You might be thinking, “We finally got to something productive.” Yes, the previous questions are very relational, but remember that when it comes to leadership development, the relationship really is the task.

This third question gives your emerging leader an opportunity to talk openly about the things that aren’t going very well in their work or with their team. Obstacles and challenges need to be acknowledged and owned before they can be addressed and overcome. As a leader, part of your role is to ensure that you provide a safe, confidential and empowering environment for your direct report to talk openly about these challenges.


#4) Doing—“What are you doing about it?”

Once you have disclosed some areas where your direct reports may be experiencing some challenges, it is tempting to move quickly into “fix-it” mode and try to solve the problem for him or her. No! Don’t do it! There are times when the emerging leader will need your insight and wisdom.

However, the best way you can serve them in a 1-on-1 is to help them tap into the wisdom and insight God has already given them to deal with the situation they are facing. It is your role to draw those answers or solutions out of the emerging leader. Asking the question, “What are you doing about it?” and then listening is what they need most. Other helpful questions are: “What would you like to see happen?” “What would need to take place for change to occur?” “Who might be able to help overcome this challenge?”

When the leader answers those questions it will empower him or her and increase their confidence in their ability to address whatever challenges they need to resolve. You are trying to develop leaders who can solve their own problems and meet challenges. You do not want to create a dependency on you.

You are trying to develop leaders who can solve their own problems and meet challenges. You do not want to create a dependency on you.

#5) Help—“How can I help you?”

If you never get to the fifth question in your 1-on-1 because your direct report has already come up with an action plan, consider yourself an extremely effective leader. The goal is not to answer all of their questions or solve all their challenges.

Remember, the goal is to help him or her discover the answers themselves so that when you’re not around, they will be able to deal with the challenges that come their way. But there are times when you need to step in and offer whatever assistance is necessary to help and so we ask, “How can I help you?” And once the people you are coaching tell you how they need help, you do your best to come through for them.


#6) Pray—“How can I pray for you?”

The best way to wrap up a 1-on-1 is to ask your direct report how you can be praying for him or her. (If it is a business setting and this question is not appropriate, then remember the word, “THINK” and ask your direct report, “Is there anything you want me to think about before our next meeting?”) After your direct report has had a chance to express some areas where he or she is in need of prayer, take a few moments to pray and reassure them that you will be praying regularly.

The most attentive and active leader can only occasionally be available to his people. However, prayer can be the sustaining environment that provides continuity and the assurance that you are keeping them in your thoughts in between each 1-on-1 meeting.


Just remember these 6 words: YOU, CELEBRATE, CHALLENGES, DOING, HELP & PRAY and you will always be prepared for a relational and productive 1-on-1 meeting.
About the Author(s)
Dave Ferguson Founding & Lead Pastor for Community Christian Church.

Dave Ferguson

Founding & Lead Pastor

Community Christian Church (Naperville, IL)

Dave Ferguson is an award-winning author, founding and lead pastor of Chicago’s Community Christian Church, a missional multi-site community considered one of the most influential churches in America. Dave is also the visionary for the international church-planting movement NewThing and president of the Exponential Conference. His most recent book is Hero Maker: Five Essential Practices for Leaders to Multiply Leaders.