How To Do 1:1 With Your Team ?

One on Ones (1:1) with your team members may be the single most important tool available to a manager. But it’s often not done properly and consequently its benefits are not realized. But first…

NOTE: This post talks about 1:1 from an engineering manager’s perspective. But it should map to other domains as well.

What’s a 1:1 ?

A 1:1 is a recurring time slot deliberately set aside so that a manager and a team member can sync up and discuss successes, challenges, personal goals, product roadmap etc. It’s a time when managers/team members can give and receive feedback and generally be aligned on things that they do.

But before we talk of what should happen in a 1:1, first lets see what should NOT happen !

What it should NOT be used for

  1. Don’t use it to catch up on work

    I once had a manager with whom it was just impossible to get any time with. So I used to use the 1:1 to go over design reviews ! Don’t be that manager. This is not the time to do design/code reviews.

  2. Don’t triage tickets during your 1:1

    This is not the time to go over backlog tickets or over your current work items. Use a different meeting for that.

What it should be used for

  1. Give and take feedback

    Ask about what’s working and what’s not working. Are there process related inefficiencies ? Are they getting blocked or interrupted frequently? Have open ended discussions about… well anything.

  2. Give feedback about their performance.

    Is it lacking ? Are they doing well ? What can they do to improve? Performance deficits should never be a surprise to either one as you both should have talked about this over several 1:1s. As a manager, be engaged. Don’t just give leadership lectures. Be specific in your asks and when they bring a problem to you, act on it. Remember, their success is your success.

  3. Talk about the future roadmap

    Familiarize yourself with the aspirations of your team members. Do they want managerial responsibilities in the future ? Do they want to be more IC(Individual Contributor) oriented ? Ask about what you can do to help them in their career journey and give specific feedback. Talk about milestones they need to meet so that they have some concrete actionable goals. And when they meet it, reward them appropriately.

  4. Build a relationship

    In today’s corporate world, the perception is that companies are faceless and you will be replaced if that’s what helps the bottom line of the company. (Probably true to some extent). But you are not faceless. You can build a rapport/professional relationship with your team members based on transparency and openness. Be humble and be invested in the success of your team members. It cannot be faked and it shows.

  5. Be aware of the power imbalance

    There is a (maybe perceived) power imbalance between manager and team member. Be aware of this. Go the extra mile to make the team member comfortable enough to share and discuss without fear of reprisals. Remember, you will have a 1:1 with your boss too !

  6. Keep an audit log

    A month down the line you may not remember what was discussed during a 1:1. Keep a personal log of what was discussed and refer back to it as need be.

  7. Make it optional

    Keep the possibility of it to be canceled if the team member does not have anything specific to talk about. (Some weeks are slow). Don’t make it a bore. Though don’t let a long time pass by without doing it, else you will get out of touch with ground realities.

The above are some high level things you should remember during your 1:1s. But the most important thing: show up. If you ignore them, it will just become another checkbox to tick and you, your team and the org will be poorer for it.