Whether you support one individual or a large team, if you are a people manager, conducting dedicated and consistent 1:1 time with your staff is critical. Effective 1:1 meetings help everyone - the company, yourself, and - most importantly - your employees. Unfortunately, there are a lot of less than stellar 1:1 meetings taking place (or not taking place at all) - often because of simple mistakes managers make. Make the most of this dedicated time with the people you support by prioritizing the following:
Schedule + Commit
This may sound overly simple, but the first step to have an effective 1:1 is to, well, have a 1:1. At minimum, this should look like 30-minutes every other week with anyone you directly support, but it may need to be longer or more frequent. Do you sit physically right next to your team every day and work collaboratively on projects on an ongoing basis? Maybe the half hour biweekly is good. Are you a remote-first company where you’ve gone (or could easily go) days on end without actually talking to someone on your team? Consider a weekly, 1-hour slot to get that valuable facetime with them.
Your 1:1s may also look different from person to person if you support more than one team member. For example - someone on your team may like the idea of a ‘walking meeting’ - getting outside and strolling around the block as you chat about the agenda. Another may thrive from a structured Zoom call with a screen share of the agenda. You may have team members who’d prefer to have their 1:1 Monday morning to help them prioritize their workweek or others on Wednesday afternoons to use as a pulse check on how the week is going while there’s still time to pivot before Friday. Listen to your team members’ individual needs and don’t worry about all of your 1:1s looking the same.
The important thing is the meetings are regularly scheduled and actually happen. Committing to these meetings is your commitment to your team and, on a larger scale, the company’s commitment to its talent. If you frequently show up late, cancel, or bump it back, you’re effectively saying other things are more worth your time. Show up to these meetings. Keep them a high priority. If it’s not a business-critical (the company is at severe risk), time sensitive (it cannot wait an hour) item… just prioritize the 1:1. If you absolutely cannot make it work, always reschedule instead of cancel.
Give the Reins to the Employee
A 1:1 between a manager and employee is the employee’s time - not the manager’s. They should own about 75% of the agenda and conversation, according to Atlassian. This is a time to talk about what they think is important - give them the space to do so. A 1:1 should not be a status check - what are you working on, what are your priorities this week, etc, nor should it be a mini performance review.
That being said, it’s okay to provide a general list of topics to cover in the agenda - some employees may not know what to talk about when given the opportunity to say anything. Some items you may want on a 1:1 agenda could include:
- A personal check-in: What’s going on in their lives - inside and outside of work? This isn’t about prying - it’s about connecting as humans and seeing each other as holistic individuals. However, candor is dependent upon rapport, trust, and psychologically safety being established. If you’re not quite there yet, this may be as simple as asking, “How are you feeling this week?” and offering back honest, perhaps even vulnerable, responses as to how you are doing and what is going on in your life.
- Challenges + accomplishments: Let your employee share something they’re proud of completing or working towards, as well as items they feel stuck with. Listen here carefully - what is causing the roadblock? Is it a skill that needs to be developed? A lack of support from you or leadership? A process that isn’t documented or defined? A capacity issue where something else needs deprioritized? Help solve any roadblocks by removing the barriers.
- Career development: Do they feel they’re growing professionally? What skills or experiences do they want or need to put them on the path of growth? If you have book, webinar, or podcast recommendations, share them; if there’s a mentor they can shadow, connect them; if there’s a stretch goal or project they can work on to develop a skill or gain a new experience - find a way to get them involved. It’s your role as a people manager to develop your team. Continue to find ways to do that. If there’s a learning and development budget your company has, take the time to look for workshops, conventions, and certifications available.
- Feedback: Once you have established trust, a 1:1 is a great time for you to get feedback from them. Where can you better support them? What can you remove from their backlog or give them more of? What could leadership be doing differently? What opportunities do they see for you as a leader to create a better team dynamic?
- Note: if you ask for feedback, this is not the time or place to defend yourself. This is their time to share and be open and your time to listen and absorb. Take notes and reflect on them after the 1:1 to address concerns brought up.
Document + Share
It’s important to provide a shared space to fill in topics to cover, questions to be asked, and items to address during an upcoming 1:1. This will allow for transparency and a sense of expectation. It also gives an opportunity for both parties to prepare for the discussion and for the conversation to be productive. It’s a great idea to suggest your team member fill in their agenda items first and at least 24 hours before the 1:1 so you can review what they want to cover before the meeting begins.
One of the simplest tools to use would be a shared Google doc. More robust platforms that can benchmark employee sentiment and responses can be found on Culture Amp + Lattice. If your employee is more of a visual learner, this Trello Board template is a unique way to set up your 1:1.
Regardless of the tool utilized, it’s important both parties have full access to see and add in comments. Take notes during the 1:1 conversation, capturing any action items and owners, follow-up meetings that may need set up, or topics to bump to a future 1:1.
Wrapping it up
Always save the final few moments of your 1:1 to recap any major points brought up and action items to do before your next meeting. Get in the habit of asking your employee to measure the value of the meeting (and measuring it yourself) - what could be done better next time? What would make this feel even 10% more valuable?
Remember - a 1:1 is dedicated, focused time for you to connect, build, and strengthen your relationship with the people you directly support. Start small - by committing to having them in the first place - and build off of the items above. In no time, you’ll be fostering a safe, open, and productive employee-led discussion that will strengthen your team, yourself as a manager, and your company’s culture as a whole.