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Junior Godoi
Junior Godoi

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How to conduct effective 1-1 meetings

1-1 are dedicated meetings between a manager and a team member that holds space for coaching, mentorship and even venting. It is essential to mention that 1-1 are not for project meetings or general reporting, these are better incorporate in a broader team event.

Like any other text you will find about 1-1, what I'm writing here is a framework that even though works for my team, it may don't work for your team as it is. The key is to adapt it to your team culture.

Ok, so here's how I do it in Scurri:

My 1-1s happen weekly. I have a slot of time for each developer on my team. The periodicity of it, like everything here, will depend on how it best suits in your team culture. I would not recommend leaving a space longer than two weeks between the meetings; otherwise, important things get less critical over time, and they end up being removed from the agenda.

As said, 1-1 should focus on the individual, not the work that is being done by them but instead, what are the non-technical impediments that are blocking them to achieve it.

As a manager, you should be there to listen, not to talk.

listen to it

Let the developer own the agenda, it is their time. But don't sit back waiting for it, or it may not happen, help them at the start and encourage them to keep a weekly log or a handy notebook where they can capture the subjects. I use a shared google doc for it, don't try to be fancy, the content is more important than the format or tool that is being used to capture.

One little detail that has a significant effect on giving ownership to the developer is how you name the meeting. Ensure the title always has the developer name first, e.g. "developer 1:1 manager", it may sound silly, but that shows you are there to listen, not to lead.

1-1 are a great entry point for psychological safety culture. The meeting should be a safe place to talk about issues and mistakes, why they happened and how to avoid them reoccurring in the future. You would be surprised about the positive impact of that.

What if the developer doesn't have an agenda for the meeting? Well, that will happen more than you would like, and that's why you also should have some "1-1 starters", some recurrent questions that can be used to help the developer to express what is on his mind.

Apart from the "how was your week?", some of the questions I like to ask are:

  • What word would define your week?
  • Tell me something new you learned this week?
  • Tell me something that you struggled this week?

The answers will lead to new questions and help the meeting to have a valuable outcome.

If you need more examples for these question, I would recommend taking a look at "Measure What Matters" by John Doerr, this book has a whole section dedicated to the CFR (Conversation, Feedback and Recognition). The website is also a useful resource with use cases for these CFRs.

During the 1-1, don't worry about taking notes, instead, make sure you are there, not only physically but also you have your mind and attention focused on what is being said. I try not to take any notes because I find the "can you repeat that" question type very disruptive. For any relevant subject or action-item, I try to capture at the end, alone, when I create my conversation log.

The post-meeting log is essential because you will need to use it before the next 1-1. The feedback loop is crucial; it will show that you care (and you should) about your team. Make sure you follow up with the answers to any questions that you were not able to answer during the previous meeting.

People watch what you do more than listen to what you say.

Watching you

1-1 meetings are the foundation for an open communication culture and a high-performance team. That's why rescheduling or skipping a 1-1 meeting should be your last option. That project meeting that needs the time slot may fail without the conversation that you would have at that same time with the developer. My 1-1's are weekly recurring calendar events; this is a great way to avoid overbooking.

1-1 meetings are tactical, short to mid-term focused meetings. For strategical long term reviews, like performance reviews, you should have a separate event as your focus needs to be different. I heavily recommend using OKRs and CFRs for that, however, making your 1-1 more productive and creating this culture of communication, will help you a lot on these strategical reviews.

If there is one thing I would like you to take from my post, then I would ask you to put people before process, don't worry about what app you will use, what formatting the agenda should have, make sure you keep it simple and focused on the content of the meeting. You can always improve it, and I personally love to experiment with new processes, that's why I try always to start simple, it's the easier way to measure and improve.

I would love to know what works for you. Are your 1-1s in a different format? Do you do anything different that you would like to share?

Top comments (2)

jcoelho profile image
José Coelho

Nice article, very well written.
I always struggle to come up with topics to talk to my manager on my 1-1.
I really like the concept and I see the benefit but I don’t know how to take advantage of it.

abbyhanssen profile image
Abby Hanssen

Amazing tips, thank you!