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[Quickstart Applicable to most managers]

How-To Guide for 1:1s

Why do 1:1s?

Recurring one-on-one meetings (1:1s) have become a common engineering practice, and are one of the best ways for managers to personally connect about issues not just related to day-to-day work.

[One on ones] provide an excellent mechanism for information and ideas to flow up the organization [...] This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email and other less personal and intimate mechanisms. —Ben Horowitz

As our teams go increasingly remote, it’s even more important to set aside time for video/voice calls to maintain a personal connection—although management isn’t exactly like parenting, scientific studies have shown that communicating over text messages with family is less effective for managing stress than a simple phone call.

There's no one right way to approach 1:1s, so this guide contains some goals, tips and tricks, and potential ways to structure your conversations. This is addressed to the manager, so "you" refers to the manager (and teammate to the person who "you" are the manager for).

tl;dr;

If you're looking for a quick-start guide, try this: * Schedule a weekly 30 minute 1:1 for you and your teammate * Use some method to keep track of potential agenda items or things both of you would like to bring up each week—e.g. a shared google doc or personal notebook * Follow a basic structure for each 1:1:, found below: Sample 1:1 Schedule.

For a new manager<>teammate relationship here’s a way you can spend the first few weeks: * Week 1: Hi! Get to know each other * Week 2: Team and role context, how to think about performance * Week 3: Career goals, long and short-term * Week 4: Bi-directional feedback so far * Week 5+: Normal 1:1

Goals & Purpose

What are manager 1:1s for?

  • Building a relationship and rapport between you and your teammate
  • Having dedicated time to talk about career development and goals
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Addressing or raising concerns
  • Helping your teammate work on the right things, by prioritizing or helping push back when needed
  • Giving your teammate more and continued insight into the org and the company overall
  • Showing commitment to helping your teammate find fulfillment and happiness in their job

What are they NOT for?

  • Project or day-to-day work updates
  • Rambling, undirected conversation

Scheduling Tips: Timing and Cadence

The exact cadence and timing of a 1:1 varies widely by individual and circumstance, and it's reasonable and expected that you may not meet with each person on your team in the same way.

Tips for Scheduling

  • Have a recurring, explicit meeting invite setup for you and your teammate
  • Make sure this time works well for both of you, and be open to moving it as needed

You may want to create it so that both of you are in control of the time, and can move the meeting independently

Timing Choices

  • 1 hour: this is considered the ~longest length for a 1:1, and may be used more commonly with less frequent meetings. (Note that it may be hard to make the full hour feel productive, so consider starting shorter and increasing if needed.)
  • 45m: somewhere in between, often used to catch up initially with new team members
  • 30m: this is a common 1:1 length, and also the minimum amount of time you may need to have a productive discussion; typically weekly

A good rule of thumb is to start with 30m or 45m weekly, and adjust the timing as your relationship develops.

As a manager, you should aim to meet with each of your teammates roughly every ~1-2 weeks.

If for some reason, you are meeting with them less frequently, you should consider other ways to ensure they are getting the ongoing support they need. E.g. having other 1:1 support with mentors on their team, or being explicit that you are helping in a transition time while looking for additional managers.

Making an Agenda

In order to have a productive conversation, it's important to come into the meeting with some ideas in mind for what you two should talk about.

This can be roughly categorized into (1) things you need to cover this week or right away, (2) things that you'd love to talk about soon but need not be right now, and (3) longer-term considerations and goals.

(1) Things to cover now

  • Are there things that urgently need addressing, or are blocking or relevant to work that's active or coming up soon?
  • Anything on your teammate's mind goes here to start, and you can choose to follow-up on individual topics later if they're not urgent
  • Has anything significant happened recently with the team or company that's relevant to them? E.g. a new team member or org change, upcoming org process like levels, etc.

(2) Things to cover soon

  • Are there things that you've carried over from previous conversations that should be resolved?
  • Are there topics relevant to upcoming (but not immediate) work?
  • Broader company/team/org changes that are happening soon

(3) Longer-term considerations and goals

These can also be open-ended questions about your team, company, and strategy * How are you thinking about your teammate's longer-term career development and goals? * Any continuation from discussions you’ve already had on personal or career goals and trajectory? * Do you have any feedback that may help them improve or grow?

Here are some questions you can ask your teammate directly to foster discussion * How are things going on the team? Do you believe we're working on the right things? Are people getting along and being productive? Are we as productive as we could be? * How do you feel about the company goals or overall trajectory? What are things you’re excited about? Not excited about? * Any thoughts on recent company all hands, announcements, org /or process updates? * How do you think project X went? * Here are a few great suggestions from Ben Horowitz’s guide: * If we could improve in any way, how would we do it? * What’s the No. 1 problem with our organization? Why? * What’s not fun about working here? * Who is really kicking ass in the company? Who do you admire? * If you were me, what changes would you make? * What don’t you like about the product? * What’s the biggest opportunity that we’re missing out on? * What are we not doing that we should be doing? * Are you happy working here?

Note that it's easy for these types of longer-term topics (3) to fall to the bottom of the priority list, so make sure to incorporate some into your (1) Things to cover now list on a regular basis.

Ideas for Note-Taking

How you choose to take or share notes is up to you, so here are just a few ways suggestions:

Shared Online Documents E.g. Google Doc: Shared with you / your teammate
Pros Cons
Easy for both of you to keep notes and track potential agenda items throughout the week May create an overly-structured script for the conversation and not leave room for "top of mind" concerns or topics
Can be a helpful reference for past conversation topics or things/actions you've agreed to Takes work to maintain over time
Personal Notes E.g. Your handy pen and paper or cloud document of choice
Pros Cons
Easy for you to keep personal and private notes One-sided record of what you've talked about (It's often very helpful to have things in writing/shared)
Can be a helpful personal reference for past conversations Harder to transition to future managers if needed
No Notes If you choose this, follow-up periodically with written actions via email / etc.
Pros Cons
Easy to maintain Easy to lose track of what you've talked about or want to talk about
Easier to have a more casual and informal environment–coffee or neighborhood chats No record of past conversations

Sample 1:1 Schedule

There's no one right way to have a 1:1, so given the considerations above, here is just one suggested way to use your time. Note: Sometimes it’s better to deep-dive into an important topic, so ditch the schedule and feel free to go off script if/when you need to.

Warmup (first few mins): Casual chat, catchup on how things are going more generally

Agenda (bulk of the meeting): If you do have a shared doc, use it as a reference here * Cover topics you both have on your mind and came into the conversation with * Things you've prepared and thought about beforehand * Things your teammate brings up for topics they have been thinking about

Other Topics (with remaining time): If you've covered your agenda and have extra time, use this time for longer-term topics or things that are less urgent but worth discussing * Scroll back up to Making an Agenda for some sample questions

Closing & Next Steps (final few mins): Summarize what you've discussed and capture what might need follow-up actions or a future conversation. If you do have a tracking doc or some personal tracking mechanism, these are the things you should record for next time

Questions & Feedback?

References: * Ben Horowitz’s guide: https://a16z.com/2012/08/30/one-on-one/ * Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2016/08/how-to-make-your-one-on-ones-with-employees-more-productive

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