The Key to Effective 1:1s—and a Fool-Proof Guide

As a manager, it’s your duty to regularly meet with each of your team members. Even if you sit next to one of your developers, you both benefit from focused face time to voice concerns. Done well, weekly one-on-ones (we’ll call them 1:1s) provide an opportunity for your employees to plan for career advancement, remove roadblocks, and think about the big picture.
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Why do 1:1s often get demoted to unofficial 10-minute coffee runs, or simply asking, “how are things going” and chit-chatting? In reality, managers aren’t set up to make the most of these check-ins. Fortunately, we’ve got the data to support effective 1:1s with your direct reports.

8 Steps To Effective 1:1s With Your Team

1. Hold your 1:1s regularly. Instead of catching up whenever you find time, set up a recurring meeting with each team member. Most managers prefer a weekly cadence, while some folks on your team may feel sufficiently supported with a bi-weekly cadence. Come to an agreement and schedule a recurring meeting series in the calendar.

2. If you need to cancel, ensure that it’s rescheduled. It’s expected that some days will experience more pressing issues, like breaking news or a bug that must be fixed. While not ideal, it is okay to cancel or reschedule the 1:1—if you offer to find another time. Some weeks, you might find that you’ve had enough interaction that you’re both up to speed; other weeks, your direct report may rely on this meeting to unblock a critical issue. If your 1:1s frequently get rescheduled or cancelled, it’s worth finding a new weekly time so that your team members can count on a regular opportunity to connect. 

3. Change up the location. We spend enough time in conference rooms—two-person check-ins can break free from the swivel chairs. It’s fine to meet at the bean bags for your 1:1, with the caveat that they offer privacy. Every week can be different, too. Meet at the cafe next door, head out on a walking meeting, or if you often work remotely, ensure that you have a reliable video conference option.

4. Share an agenda. Having some guidelines is equally important for managers and their individual contributors. This is a two-way conversation, and while the manager may have topics to discuss, the main focus is on what team members need. Give space and time for their voice to be heard, their questions answered, and career coaching to take place. (That agenda should be open for both parties to add or edit.)

5. Keep it gossip-free. When you’re away from coworkers, it might feel like an enticing opportunity to vent about roadblocks and the people you see at fault. This is not the time to talk poorly of others. If there are challenges your team member is facing, listen earnestly and work together to find a solution. As satisfying as it may feel to vent, the highest priority of your 1:1 is to provide a place to safely communicate problems and needs.

6. Look beyond workload. If you ask about the week, you’re sure to receive a status update on every current deliverable. Instead, shape the conversation around higher-level concepts, like improving the way teams work together, or paving a road toward a promotion. Make time elsewhere in the week to connect on projects and specific tasks so that 1:1s can focus on the individual, not the work.

7. Discuss career aspirations. Every month or so, dedicate the full agenda to career development. Your direct reports likely have goals in the near future and much further down the road. Talking about short-term and long-term aspirations can boost your employee toward the next role (and possibly reduce attrition).

8. Take notes. Start an evergreen Google Doc for each direct report, returning every week to add notes, track patterns, and save ideas for later. This can help you identify progress (or issues) and makes life easy when it comes to annual reviews. Just make sure to save it securely.

Ready for your next 1:1? Guide the conversation to a deeper level by asking thought-provoking, open-ended questions. 

1:1 Question Guide

  • What was the highlight of your past week? 
  • What were your top accomplishments?
  • How’s your well-being (or stress level) right now?
  • Where did you feel that you got the most stuck? 
  • Looking ahead, what is blocking you from doing your best work?
  • Is there anything I can do better to improve your experience here?
  • Is there anything I can do better to support your career development here?
  • What other, if any, feedback do you have for me?

This post was written by David YoussefniaPhD, co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Uplevel.