The HOURGLASS model for one-to-one meetings


  1. Start with humane interest in the person, and establish a cooperative connection based on esteem and respect.
  2. Develop the topic of the meeting by focusing on self-actualisation and potential.
  3. Encourage interest in the topic by suggesting some reading and research, or a course.
  4. Form a team of two or more people for theme discussions.
  5. Organise opportunities for hands on learning and role-playing where each one can teach/explain what they have learnt.

NOTE: Establish the timeframe by allocating a certain amount of time to the various parts of the meeting (i.e., 10 minutes: personal aspects; 30 minutes: self-actualisation; 20 minutes: learning and application). 

One-to-one meetings can be challenging, and even a source of anxiety, both when we present a project or a problem, hoping to win the other party’s cooperation, and even when somebody comes to us for advice, and we feel responsible for providing answers, or when we have to decide if another person’s ideas are feasible or applicable. Either way, in order to manage one-to-one meetings effectively, we need to remove the emotional stress-generating approach, which switches off our rational skills and triggers a cortisol surge, thus heightening stress levels by allowing the limbic system (emotional) to prevail on the cortical (rational) response of the brain.

Structured reasoning restores clarity and confidence by establishing cortical control over our actions. Considering every interaction a learning opportunity sets the scene for constructive relationships. The leader thus feels empowered to accompany the other person along a path of self-development and accountability, empowering either him or her to identify and implement innovative solutions. Furthermore, a reference structure for the meeting enhances the leader’s self-confidence by changing a submissive, aggressive or defensive attitude into one of listening and reflection, thus inviting trust and improving interaction.

Hence the concept of the Hourglass model, which converges Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Edgar Dale’s learning pyramid within the tenets of coaching. Indeed, the coaching process develops along a timeline, encouraging reflection and raising awareness of new opportunities and personal potential.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs distinguishes deficiency needs associated with survival, feeling safe, esteemed and part of a family and community, from abstract growth needs underpinned by ambitions, dreams and self-development goals. Maslow places deficiency needs at the broad base of the pyramid, identifying them as the basic concern of people. However, motivation to meet them diminishes as they are resolved, while self-actualisation is, instead, a steadily motivated ongoing process of personal development.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (source: (McLeod 2007)

Edgar Dale too places practical outcomes as the base of his learning pyramid versus abstract activities, which are located at the apex and deemed to have a lower impact on the learning process. He says that people shift from participants to spectators as the level of abstraction increases. The percentages allocated to each level by later studies on Dales pyramid contribute to a better understanding of the learning process.

Edgar Dale’s Learning Pyramid (source: Wood 2004)

The two pyramids have in common the importance of the broad practical base. However, if we reverse Maslow’s model and converge the two theories, the outcome is a structured approach to one-to-one meetings, a tool that can help leaders acknowledge the other person’s situation and potential, providing guidance towards the most appropriate solutions and actions.


Starting from the inverted base of Maslows’ hierarchy, leaders acknowledge the fact that personal lives with worries and joys have a significant impact on performance at work, even when they only have an outline of a person’s background without the details. However, the area where a leader can start building a constructive relationship starts with a person’s need for esteem and to feel respected. This point is closely linked to self-actualisation, the apex of Maslow’s pyramid, the site of dreams and vision, the powerhouse that holds a person’s potential to achieve success. By activating this self-awareness, leaders empower a person to conceive new solutions even for personal life issues, besides encouraging self-development.

In the inverted pyramid, this area resembles an arrow, which points towards a learning process, Edgar Dale’s learning pyramid. Reversing Dale’s concept that participants become spectators as the level of abstraction increases, the HOURGLASS model presents the progression from abstract learning to practical implementation, how initial research and reading are reinforced by watching a practical demonstration. Then, discussions and reflection with colleagues and hands-on experience clarify the notions acquired, enhancing skills and even leading to personalised implementation of the process by learning from experience and improving the actions involved. Indeed, memory is stronger when events involve multiple senses and feelings (Shaw 2016). Finally, knowledge sharing by teaching the concepts to other colleagues contributes to strengthen confidence and memory of the newly acquired know-how.

Developing the process within an established time-frame is important to ensure that the various steps are developed and completed during the meeting, thus engaging and motivating a person to provide their best performance.

The HOURGLASS model underscores the value of considering the whole person and of encouraging self-development for the benefit of both the person and the organisation.


McLEOD, S., 2022. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. [online]. [S. l.]: SymplyPsychology.- Available from: [Accessed 18 April 2022].

SHAW, J., 2016. The memory illusion: remembering, forgetting, and the science of false memory. London: Random House.

WOOD, E. J., 2004. Problem-based learning: exploiting knowledge of how people learn to promote effective learning. Bioscience education 3(1), pp. 1-12.

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