One-on-One meetings (1:1s) are some of the meetings where we can understand and find how our people are, how they feel, what are their constraints inside and outside the team, know more about them, help in their career development and also talk with transparency.
Later on, I will share with you powerful questions that I asked to discover some of these things and maybe you will discover some of my secrets. There are a lot of articles out there about 1:1s. It is not my intention to talk about the definition of 1:1s or show you the list of powerful questions that you can ask. You can use your best friend Google and you will find it as I found too. At the end of this article, I’ll share the ones I find more interesting.
So just to be clear, the intention of this article is to share with you my experience as a leader. For example, how I run and conduct these meetings with each team member, the questions that I ask and moreover some conclusions that I drew. Of course, I never mention names of people for privacy. This way I can tell if this strategy works for me or not.
Booking the meeting …
First of all, I need to understand what is the best recurring schedule for the meetings. At first, I decided to do the meetings biweekly. But soon, my team members and I discovered that once we talk every day, we don’t need so many 1:1s meetings. So we agreed to do the meetings monthly.
In case you don’t talk so much with your team, maybe it is better to book every two weeks but .. hey .. , this is my opinion.
The idea here is to talk with your team members and understand what suits you and them best. In my case, people asked to do it monthly and I agreed.
Be careful, there are people that can say “No, I don’t need it, it’s boring” etc, but you need to convince them that it’s important and necessary and explain the reason behind it.
… Meeting booked, and now?
After we decide the schedule, I ask myself the following questions:
- So next? What do I need to do?
- And if the person doesn’t have anything to say during the meeting? What can I do? What can I ask?
- How can I talk about future goals? What are the best questions to ask?
- Or what is important to discuss during these meetings? A status point about what the person is doing?
- Is it important to give feedback for something or not?
- And many other questions and concerns …
To answer these questions, I started to do research on the internet about the topic and I found a lot of information about it that you can’t imagine (if you are not yet a manager).
I found a lot of websites with a lot of great questions that we can adapt to our team and start asking and discovering things about the person. Asking your people questions is very interesting because you can get people talking and discover a lot about what they are thinking and how they feel. Next session I will share with you some questions that I asked my team and the purpose of them.
… And what are “my” powerful questions so far?
Some questions that I asked my team:
- What time of day do you feel most productive?
With this question we can understand what is the best time to avoid meetings with your team members and allow them to focus on their programming mode.
- What changes can you make to optimize your day?
This is a great question to help each team member manage their time.
- What changes that I as your manager might help make?
- Where do you feel you’re wasting time?
- Who is the person that inspires you the most and why?
This question provides a vision of the things we admire in other people and how we can learn from them.
- Do you have any suggestions for improvement in the team?
- What keeps you inspired/motivated?
This helps me to understand what kind of tasks they like to do. This way when I have something to do, I can provide it for that person.
- How can I help you with your work?
- What obstacles can I help remove for you?
- What do you think I should improve as your leader?
In some of these questions I didn’t suggest concrete actions on purpose to leave room for them to think.
Great questions that I used with new team members:
- How was your first week? (adapt depending on the time of the meeting)
- What do you expect from your professional evolution in the company? ( what do you like to do or not? )
- What do you expect from me as a leader?
- What would you like to bring to the team?
- What are some of your success stories?
… And do you only ask questions?
In some meetings I decide to ask useful questions with a purpose and in other meetings I do a freestyle meeting where people bring their subjects and start to talk, and I don’t ask anything.
Bear in mind that it’s important when you do ask questions to leave space for some subjects that your team can have too.
For example, because I have monthly meetings, I schedule 45 minute meetings, and divide the time for questions and leave space for the team members’ topics, or sometimes ask questions in those meetings or sometimes just freestyle.
… So how to save all this information? On a Google docs template
To have some record of my 1:1s I share a google doc with each team member with all the information discussed during the meetings. Usually I put the following fields in my template:
- the date of the meeting
- Previous subjects : usually this is a status point of previous action points of the last meeting
- Today’s subjects ( or just Subjects ) : these are subjects that the team member wants to discuss or questions that I want to ask.
- And finally “Action Points”: sometimes during the meetings we agree to do some things and we put them here to not forget.
Some examples of action points are:
- Talk with other principal engineers to understand what the role of a principal is in our company ( when you have a team member that wants to grow as a principal )
- Moderate the next retrospective meeting to practice the facilitation
Next meeting we review these action points and put a status in the “previous subject” field. I saw some leaders/managers doing it and I liked it and decided to do the same. Please feel free to try this idea if you want, or share your own ideas with me too! :)
Here is an example of the template on google docs:
To recap, I do my meetings monthly with a duration of 45 minutes. During the meeting I ask questions and/or do a freestyle meeting depending.
The most important tip here is to not forget how important it is to have these meetings and why team members need them. When I talked with some colleagues about this subject we remembered that many engineers see one-on-ones as a “have to do” without recognizing the value they can provide, such as:
- Improving their relationship with their manager
- Identifying risks or challenges that might not otherwise be discussed in more public settings
- Ensuring the employee not only feels that their manager is looking out for them and their professional growth, but also setting aside time to ensure the conversation happens deliberately and not accidentally
- Understanding how each role can support each other
- Establishing what each has learned since the last 1:1 and discussing how that might change their actions from there
I hope you’ve enjoyed my tips for better 1:1s. Feel free to leave a comment or a question, as I always love to hear about and learn from other people’s experiences.
Useful resources about 1:1s