A one-on-one meeting is a private meeting between a manager and their employee. It's the guaranteed time an employee has with their manager for the purpose of connecting, getting and giving feedback, and working on the employee's career.
Jacob was transferred to my team through an awkward inheritance process. I'd recently taken over a new product, and the few engineers assigned to the project were transferred along with it. I disliked the idea of trading employees like baseball cards, but sometimes you need to pick your battles. Jacob was a mid-level SDE (software development engineer) who had been at Amazon for many years. I wasn't disappointed to get the help of an experienced employee.
I scheduled one-on-one meetings with my new team members, and I met with Jacob on his first day on my team. Jacob walked into my office, and sat across from me. He fidgeted with his hands, looking oddly nervous.
I introduced myself and then said, "I'd like to make sure you don't feel like you've lost career progress while changing managers. Want to walk me through where you think you are, and what you might be working towards?"
"I don't know? I'm not sure, I hadn't thought about it," he replied with a look of puzzlement on his face.
"What do you tend to work on in your one-on-ones with your manager?"
"I don't remember, I think my last one was at my annual review?"
I'm aghast at the idea of a manager not having a regular one-on-one with their employee. I'm also excited I could legitimately use aghast in a sentence.
A lot of meetings are optional, but one-on-ones are not one of them. If you have employees, you must meet with them regularly to discuss their career. You also need to insist on a regular one-on-one with your manager.