What I use for 1:1s with software engineers & UX/UI designers

A manager’s main objective is to maximize the output of their team. You can do this a million different ways and there are pros/cons with each approach. When I first contemplated one on ones, I spent a lot of time gathering information and advice on how to do them right. With most things, there is no “right” approach, it is about what works for you and your team. However, I wanted to share the framework I use in an effort to hold meaningful 1:1s.

One of the most impactful books I read on my journey to hold successful 1:1s was Michael Lopp’s (Rands in Repose) work. I’d immediately recommend you stop reading this post and begin reading #1 below. The book is a culmination of his blog posts, so you’ll end up reading #2 & #3 along the way.

  1. Book: Managing Humans
  2. Blog Post: The Update, The Vent, and The Disaster
  3. Blog Post: The Rands Test

How often do we meet?

I meet with each person for 30 mins minimum, every other week. For new employees, I spend 30 mins every week with them for 6 months.

Is there an agenda?

I ask my team to have a loose agenda prepared for the meeting. My intention is less around the specific agenda, and more around having them at least partially mentally prepare for the meeting.

I do maintain an Evernote file for the upcoming 1:1 meeting that I jot down any potential 1:1 topics that arise during the week and I encourage the team to do the same. I intentionally use a new Evernote for each meeting to inspire me to maintain a sense of “clean slateness”.

What is the goal of the 1:1?

While my main objective as a manager is to maximize the output of my team, the goal of the 1:1 is not to maximize the meeting for immediate output. My goal is to better understand each member of my team. I want to develop a better understanding of who they are and what they want.

What is the general flow of the meeting?

I typically work down a flow of 3 general inflection points:

  1. How are you doing?
  2. What’s on your agenda?
  3. What’s on my agenda?

How are you doing?
True to Lopp’s advice, I kickoff each meeting with a “how are you doing?” This question rarely delivers interesting insights in our American society, but where this conversation leads is telling. How does the person hear this question? Did it lead towards a work related response? Personal response? This can be telling of where their mind is at.

As a manager you’re there to listen and to understand them better.

If this question is met with a flat response, I tend to dive into a topic of interest with them. How is that new TV show? Video game? How is your wife doing? I’m hoping to break the ice so we can go deeper if necessary. I want to talk about things they want to talk about, that’s the goal here.

What’s on your agenda?
I want to know if you’ve been thinking about our meeting. I want to know what’s at the top of the list. I want to know what’s sandwiched between the good stuff (good, bad, good). Do you want to learn in this meeting? Explore? Vent? Complain? Shoot the shit?

My goal here is to address their concerns, questions, and ideas.

What’s on my agenda?
I listed these 3 sub-points very deliberately. I believe my agenda is the least important of the 3. If I need to talk to them about something important, we will get to my agenda — but those times are infrequent and only when it’s truly important.

How do I prepare for the meeting?

I use the Rands Test and put myself in the team member’s shoes. If I were asked these questions, what would I respond? If I fail to answer that question “correctly” on the behalf of the team member, then it gets added to my agenda to improve the work environment so that isn’t the case.

Rands Test

  • Do you have a 1:1? (+1)
  • Do you have a consistent 1:1 where you talk about topics other than status? (+1)
  • Do you have a team meeting? (+1)
  • Do you have a consistent team meeting? (+1)
  • Do you have status reports? (-1)
  • Are handwritten status reports delivered weekly via email? (-1)
  • Can you say No to your boss? (+1)
  • Are you comfortable saying NO to your boss? (+1)
  • Can you explain the strategy of the company to a stranger? (+1)
  • Can you explain the current state of business? (+1)
  • Does the person in charge regularly stand up in front of everyone and tell you what he/she is thinking? Are you buying it? (+1)
  • Can you explain your career trajectory? (+1)
  • Bonus: Can your boss explain your career trajectory? (+1)
  • Do you have time to be strategic? (+1)
  • Are you actively killing the Grapevine? (+1)

I’ve found this technique to be a great way to work backwards to deliver value to each team member.

What’s next?

Rinse and repeat. Each week brings on a new set of challenges and learnings. I’m sure I’ll look back at this list and have many changes in the future, but I wanted to share this for any new managers hoping to learn more on how to succeed.