The basics of a good 1:1
A 1:1 is a regular meeting between you as a manager and one of your direct reports. The contents of these meetings can vary from getting to know your reports, building trust, talk career development, share context, and clear up expectations to just having a place to vent.
The most important thing for a good 1:1 is that it actually happens. Make sure to have a frequent and regular time set off. I’d suggest starting with at least 30 minutes every week and adjust from there as needed. No one likes having too many meetings, but these are your must-do meetings. As I’ve written about before, the reasons to have regular 1:1s are many, and the return on investment is high. To make sure they happen, never cancel a 1:1, instead reschedule if you have to.
Before any 1:1, make sure you are properly prepared. The outcome will be so much better if both you and your report have had time to think through what to talk about. A good starting point can be to look through your notes from previous 1:1s to get back in the same mindset and be able to follow up on things. I also like to prepare a list of questions I can reference that are relevant for this specific person at this specific time. A good source of inspiration for this can be Fellows list of 200 One-On-One Meeting Questions for Managers.
The one thing I would try to stay away from is status updates. It’s very easy to fall back to talk about how different pieces of work is progressing if you haven’t prepared, and it’s generally not the best use of the time in a 1:1.
To be able to follow up and also to have a place to share an agenda I like to have a shared document where I take notes either during the meeting or afterward. Perhaps you can already think of a few topics to talk about next time?
The actual setting of the 1:1 is also important. Find someplace neutral and quiet where you can talk without distractions. Also, make sure to turn off any notifications, the 1:1 should be a sacred time for real conversation.
For the actual conversation, let your report do most of the talking. It’s a natural tendency to fill the air with your own experiences and stories but try not to. We want to hear what our reports have to say so we can learn, coach and help. And if the conversation goes silent for a while, maybe they are just thinking, let them.
So to summarize: make sure the 1:1s happen regularly, come prepared, share notes, avoid distractions, and don’t talk too much.
As a leader, I favor transparency and collaboration, often involving my teammates in figuring out the best way forward. It’s important for me to build trust and to work long term. I want to build bridges and increase collaboration between teams.