How to get the most out of 1:1s with your team members, from getting started through to building the habit
Holding good 1:1 meetings with your team members will be crucial to your success as a manager.
We'll help you navigate early 1:1 meetings and develop them into a regular habit which both you and your team members get the most out of.
Meeting with your team members is one of the most valuable activities you can do as a manager. They help you:
But just like there’s no model manager, there’s no ‘right’ way to do 1:1s. How you approach them will reflect your own style, so take any of our suggestions that you feel fit with your own ideas.
“One-on-ones are your must-do meetings, your single best opportunity to listen, really listen, to the people on your team to make sure you understand their perspective on what’s working and what’s not working.” Kim Scott, Radical Candor
Your first 1:1s will be different than the meetings you will have three or four months down the line as your relationship evolves. These ones are more about setting the tone and the foundation for future meetings.
Here’s some tips for getting those first ones right.
Hi Catherine, over the next few days, I’m going to put some time in for our first one-on-one meeting. I find these meetings really helpful for staying close to your work and career development, and understanding where I can best help you as your manager. No need to prepare anything, I just want to catch up, and talk about how you think you’ll get most out of these meetings in future.’
Your first 1:1s are about getting to know the other person and working out how the two of you can work together and support each other.
You may have you own style of doing that but we’ve identified five potential areas of conversation:
Of course you don’t have to cover all these in your first meeting. It might take a few. Particularly because you’ll likely have some ongoing work/projects to discuss.
If you need some prompts, here’s a few questions you could ask for each category.
(Also, no need to jump straight into any of these topics. Studies have shown that small talk at the start of a meeting can make for a much happier one. It gets the other person talking and involved in the meeting.)
"Why did you decide to work here?"
"Are you particularly excited about any opportunities?"
"What projects do you like to work on?"
"What projects would you rather not do?"
"Are there any goals you’re working towards at the moment?"
"Any surprises since you’ve joined, good or bad, that I should know about?"
"Is there anything you’d like my help with in the short term?"
"How do you like to receive serious feedback? Do you prefer it in writing so you have time to digest it or are you comfortable with less formal feedback?"
"How do you like to be praised for great work? In public or just in private?"
"Are there any manager behaviours which you know you hate?"
"What’s your ideal working environment? When and where do you find you do your best work?"
"What makes you grumpy? How will I know when you’re grumpy? How can I help you when you’re having a bad day?"
"How do I know when you’re in a bad mood or annoyed? Are there things that always put you in a bad mood that I should be aware of?"
"What’s your favorite way to treat yourself?"
"Have you had good 1:1s before? What did you like about them?"
"Ideally, how would you like these meetings to go?"
"When’s the best time to schedule these?"
After your first meeting, you’ll want to do the following:
As you move beyond the initial meetings, and you begin to establish deeper, more trusting relationships with your team members, you’ll adapt your approach to make the meetings most effective.
This section will address some of the different scenarios you’ll come across in your 1:1s and some techniques for navigating those.
‘Understand that each time you bail on a 1:1 they hear, “You don’t matter”. Michael Lopp
Some quick notes on these:
As you move into a regular rhythm of 1:1s, your topics of conversation will become more organic. You should be building trust which means your team members raise topics proactively with you, rather than you having to draw them out.
(Note that it can take some time to establish the trust for this to happen. Don’t be disheartened if it takes a few weeks/months for your team to get used to raising topics with you - particularly if they’ve never had a manager who gave them good 1:1s).
At this stage, rather than coming up with topics, your main technique will often be listening carefully to what your team members have to say and responding.
For example, Michael Lopp begins his 1:1s with a simple ‘How are you?’ As he says, it may seem a simple question, but it makes it very easy for the other person to respond with at least something, and then you can take the conversation from there.
‘What’s the first thing they say? Do they deflect with humor? Is it the standard off-the-cuff answer? Or is it different? How is it different? What words did they choose and how quickly are they saying them? How long did they wait to answer? Did they even answer the question? Do you understand the answer isn’t the point, either? The content is merely a delivery vehicle for the mood and the mood sets your agenda’
You’ll usually find yourself responding to what your team members say in one of five ways:
You’ll find yourself testing out these approaches to see what works better in which moments, with which team members. If you’re unsure, you can also ask. For example, ‘Would you like some advice from me on this, or just to talk it through?’
Neha Batra has a great table which demonstrates the difference between mentoring, coaching, and sponsoring in different scenarios.
Some other prompts you could still end up using might include:
I know this quarter you’re focusing on (insert skill), has this helped with that?
I know we’re trying to do more of (insert focus area) on the team, how do you think we’re doing?
How does your workload feel right now?
What’s the best use of our time today?
What would you like to do more of?
What would you like to do less of?
Are you getting the right support from your colleagues?
Is there anything that I can help you with?
Can I put you in touch with anyone over the next month?
I know I’ve been busy this month with (insert task). Were there times when I could have supported you better?
Regular 1:1s can generate A LOT of information and insights. Different managers have different ways of organizing all this information, but there’s generally three categories of information you’ll want to keep track of:
Some adapt Google docs or wikis for this task, others use specialist people management software, whatever works for you and your team.
At some point, you may feel a lack of engagement from your team members with your 1:1s. Perhaps they’ve stopped bringing topics for discussion, or the conversation hasn’t flowed as freely, or worst case, they keep cancelling them.
This usually happens for one of three reasons, each need solving differently: