One-on-one

An important part of being a manager is having frequent meetings with your direct reports aka one-on-ones. This helps facilitate open communication, presence, and support, allowing you to know what your reports are working on and gives you the opportunity to provide assistance, coaching, and feedback.

Over the years as a manager at Google and now Facebook my one-on-ones have developed from casual, unstructured conversations to a semi-structured discussions. By outlining how I approach one-on-ones, I hope you will learn some best practices that you can apply to your own whether you are a manager or someone's direct report.

I have a 30 minute one-on-one with each of my reports scheduled every Monday aka Meeting Monday. This is important. Frequent meetings create structure in a fast-paced environment. They allow you to stay update-to-date with what your team is working on and provide assistance, coaching, and feedback. I find Monday to be a particularly suitable day for one-on-ones as it allows my reports and me to reflect on the previous week and plan for the week ahead.

Frequent meetings create structure in a fast-paced environment. It allows you to stay update-to-date with the work your team is working on and provide assistance, coaching, and feedback.

My one-on-ones consist of seven questions:

  • What impact did you have last week?
  • What did you learn last week?
  • What went well last week? Why?
  • What could have gone better last week? Why?
  • What are the key objectives you are working on this week?
  • How can I help you?
  • Do you have any feedback for me? Be bold. Be open.

Facebook is an impact driven organization, as such I encourage my reports to actively think about the impact of their work. Specifically within a company such as Facebook, this question is reserved for impact on product and even process, which allows people to do their jobs more effectively and efficiently. This impact might not be immediate, rather the result of weeks or even months of work.

We cannot always be expected to be having impact. Beyond having an organization that is focused on impact, I wish to work on a team that is equally focused on learning. We should be able to reflect upon our experiences learning what we could have done better or differently. As with impact a project may take weeks or months to complete and reflecting upon that work can result in learnings.

I do not expect my reports to have impact or learn something profound each week. I try to keep these contributions high quality, thereby elevating the standard for impact and learning on the team. As such, the questions about what went well and what could have gone better are more focused on the day-to-day activities and tasks — the building blocks of impact and learnings.

The questions related to what went well or what could have gone better also provide an opportunity to provide coaching and review feedback. Note that while feedback should be given as close to real time as possible, a one-on-one is a good time to review that feedback. The weekly frequency of our one-on-ones also allows this coaching and feedback to be timely.

You may have noticed that my questions take a positive perspective. For example, what did you learn vs. what failed; what could have gone better vs. what went wrong. I wish to emphasize two points with this framing: 1) there is always room for improvement — even if things are going well; and, 2) we should be focused on continued development and learning.

I ask my reports to list their key objectives to: 1) hold them accountable — I will review what they had set out to do the previous week; and 2) ensure the team is moving at a good cadence i.e. work is getting done — Facebook, in addition to be focused on impact, is also focused on moving fast.

As a manager, I want my employees to succeed. As such, I ask my employees how I can help. The assistance I can provide ranges from providing direction or guidance, to providing more directed assistance, including actually doing work.

Last, but not least, a one-on-one should not be uni-directional. I give my reports the opportunity to give me feedback, stating two of Facebook’s company values — be bold, be open. While I also encourage them to provide me feedback in real time, explicitly asking for feedback further encourages it. I can learn as much from my reports, as they can learn from me and ultimately, I wish to be the best manager I can for them.

A one-on-one should not be uni-directional.

I have a document for one-on-ones that is shared between each report and myself. I ask that each report answer the seven questions before 9:00am on a Monday. I then have an hour from 9:00–10:00 on Monday to review my reports’ answers. There are several benefits to doing this: 1) it allows us both to come to the one-on-one prepared; 2) it allows us to focus more on the conversation, rather than processing the information; 3) it provides a written record of what was discussed, which can be referred back to at a later date e.g. a direct report can refer back to the impact they add over the half during a performance summary cycle.

Finally, a one-on-one does not have to be limited to the 30 minutes scheduled each week. I encourage my directs to schedule more time with me if needed. I will also grab them to go for a short walk, to grab a coffee or play ping pong.

This is how I approach one-on-ones with my direct reports. I have been told by many of my reports that they find it effective, some have even applied this approach with their own direct reports, and people at other companies have also adopted this approach based on conversations we have had about management. I hope you also have learned some best practices that you can apply to your own one-on-ones.

Thank you Lori Wu Malahy, Priya Nayak, Sarah Nuehring, and Vivian Takach for providing feedback.

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