Effective 1:1s - Foundations of Leadership
The Foundations of Leadership series is built to help new managers and technical leaders ramp up their effectiveness quickly. Until you've developed your leadership style, these templates and tools help you create effective leadership habits. (view all posts in the series)
One on ones (1:1s) are the most critical meeting of your week as a leader. These 2-person meetings between you and another employee create opportunities to coach, mentor, and grow for both individuals. While I may use the term "manager" and "employee" for simplicity in this post, you can and should be willing to substitute the two roles for any relationship in which a 1:1 conversation is happening.
"While it's not the manager's job to set the agenda or do the talking, the manager should try to draw the key issues out of the employee." ー Ben Horowitz
Early Problem Detection: Through regular 1:1s, you can identify and resolve problems while the cost to the employee, team, and business is small.
Clear Roadblocks: You have broader insight into other parts of the company and can provide next steps that prevent employees from being stuck on a single issue.
Career Alignment: 1:1s are an opportunity to ensure both you and the employee have a shared understanding of the employee's career and what opportunities will grow, challenge, and advance their career.
1:1s Should be Regular and at Least One Hour in Length: There is a minimum amount of time required for two individuals to work through greetings, questions, or general information sharing. In practice, this takes approximately 15-20 minutes. In 1:1s under an hour, there is insufficient time for you to assist with problem detection, roadblock clearing, or career alignment. If you have more than seven individuals on your team, anything under an hour results in a superficial meeting. If you have a large number of reports, the correct thing to do is reduce the frequency of the 1:1s, not the time of any single 1:1.
Shared Collaborative Space: It doesn't matter if it's a Slack channel, a Google Doc, or an application decided on by the HR team. There needs to be a single shared space where both you and the employee can list their talking points for the next 1:1. This place should be used by both individuals to share agenda items, notes, and prepare for the 1:1.
Open-Ended Questions: These are not simple yes/no questions, and should not result in the kind of small talk introverts wish you'd avoid. These conversation starters can help a 1:1 move beyond status reporting and into more meaningful subjects that are more valuable to both you and the employee.
What are your thoughts about recent company/team/organizational thing?
In your opinion, what we should we be worried about?
What do you believe we're doing well right now?
Pretty much any question from Plucky's 1:1 Starter Pack
Avoid the question "how are things?" even as a casual question. Focusing on things centers the conversation on work. A better question is "how are you?"
Recording: A practical review of the meeting, in the Shared Collaborative Space, holds both parties to account for the quality of the 1:1. Complete the summary after, not during the 1:1 to keep both of you focused on the conversation. A quick note in a notebook is acceptable, but focusing on a laptop or phone for recording notes distracts from the importance of a person-to-person discussion. Any items that need action should have a commitment and a timeline attached for Follow-Through.
Follow-Through: By keeping commitments, trust is built, which furthers the relationship between you and the employee. Once either person completes an action, update the Shared Collaborative Space with the outcome and any new steps.
The following template can be adapted to your own 1:1 system and is a good starting point for folks that are looking for something they can use in their Shared Collaborative Space. In this doc, you'll find a weekly place for both you and the employee to add items for discussion, a "top three" takeaways from the meeting, and steps for making sure follow-through happens.
Now, Apply It!
Take the ideas from this post and put them to use in your own 1 to 1 conversations. Get the free template and start having better conversations.