Experiments in 1-2-1's

I started doing 1–2–1's with my colleagues earlier this year and we’ve just completed our third round.

These are run on a 6 to 8 week cadence so there’s time to take on some longer-view personal goals and reflect on those each time.

Given that we’re so early in our process of doing 1–2–1's, we’re establishing what works for us as we go along and changing it where needed.

To begin the process and throughout this year, I read a lot of advice on how other organisations do theirs and what questions they ask. I’ve created a mutant version just for us of (what I consider to be) the best bits I’ve found.

To start, I’ve laid out some common actions I think are important for how I want to do 1–2–1's:

  • To go somewhere nice, out of the office and get coffee and cake
  • To allocate a minimum of an hour for each one, but realistically, if there are things to discuss we’ll talk until we’re done with no restrictions or clock-watching
  • To agree and book a date for the next one as soon as possible and get it in our shared Teamweek calendar
  • To send out the questions in advance to give people time to think
  • As early as possible after each 1 – 2 – 1, send brief written follow-up notes with our agreed actions/goals clearly laid out
  • To keep the notes with each person’s stated goals somewhere easy to review regularly (mine are on my desktop). This means I can remind myself what they are so I can help remove blockers and find opportunities to help each person reach theirs over the course of each 6–8 weeks
  • Actions should come from my colleagues. I’m there to help shape them into achievable tasks, not to set how they do their work
  • To do whatever I can to keep my 1–2–1 commitments and not neglect or move them without good reason and proper notice time

If it’s useful to anyone else, here's the set-up I’ve tried so far:

The first 1–2–1's

As we’d not done them before, in these first 1–2–1s I asked more questions to help me get the lay of the land and hear how each person was feeling at that point.

I’ll probably use these with any new starters or to do any annual resets.

The questions I asked were:

Overall thoughts

  • What do you think you are best at?
  • What do you really like about your job?
  • What makes you tick?
  • What is part of your job now that you wish you could change or do less of?
  • What gives you a sense of satisfaction?

The last few weeks

  • What went well in the past few weeks?
  • What could have gone better?
  • Are there any stand-out days/weeks, and what made them good?
  • Are there any that weren’t so good, and what made them bad?
  • On a scale of 1–10, how happy are you currently?

The next few weeks

  • What do you have coming up?
  • What’s going on with your customers, are there any you’re concerned about this year?
  • What would you like to be tackling next?
  • What’s in your way?
  • What would you like to do more of?

What can I do?

  • What is one thing that I can do differently?
  • Is there anything I should start doing? Stop doing?
  • What can I be doing to help you more?

The second 1–2–1s

This round was the start of the more routine questions. Here I tried to find a good, repeatable structure which allows us to reflect on the previous 6–8 weeks and set up for the next ones. Throughout each one I give my thoughts on each point, too. I try to highlight where I’ve seen my colleagues succeed when maybe they haven’t realised it and to offer support if there are blockers.

To start:
We catch up on actions from last 121

Personal reflection — the last 6 weeks

  • What have been your successes?
  • Anything you’re particularly proud of?
  • What hasn’t worked so well — anything you like to have done differently?
  • Where you’ve worked together with other people, how did you find it? (this one is always really interesting)
  • Did you get everything done that you wanted to?
  • Any stretch goals would you like to achieve/challenges you would like to take on?

Coming up

  • What your plans are for the next few weeks?
  • Anything I can do to help? Start doing/stop doing?
  • Any questions we should have covered but didn’t?

The third 1–2–1s

I repeated the same structure as round 2, but I’d found some interesting additional questions to which I wanted to hear the answers. I asked these after the repeatable 1–2–1 process was done.

I broke one of my rules and did not send these questions out in advance as I was interested in hearing gut reactions. Actually this was a mistake and I should have stuck with my plan for sending questions out beforehand. I don’t like to be put on the spot without proper thinking time and it turns out nor do my colleagues.

I still think these questions are interesting, but they are not for every 1–2–1. Instead, I’ve left these with my colleagues and asked that they share whenever they want to talk to me about any of these things.

I need to make sure I reiterate that these questions will always be open for discussion at any time (during 1–2–1's or otherwise), so that we can keep making things, and knowing one another, better.

The questions are below and are selected from this article by Claire Lew

#1: “Are you afraid of anything at work?”

#2: “Have you seen something recently and thought to yourself ‘I wish we’d done that’?”

#3: “Is there something we should measure in the company that we currently don’t?”

#4: “Is there any part of the company you wish you were able to interact with more?”

#5: “Are there any benefits we don’t offer that you’d like to see us offer?”

#6: “Have you seen someone here do excellent work that’s gone unnoticed?”

#7: “Are there things you don’t know about the company that you feel you should know?”

The value

I really like our 1–2–1s. I mentioned in my weeknotes that I get nervous before them, but I think that’s ok because I think they’re important.

I find them useful to know what’s going on with everyone. We’re very busy so they’re a good weathervane for what may be happening, personally or professionally, that I haven’t seen. I most enjoy the quality time with my colleagues with no other distractions or pressures.

A useful thing for me, and something I should seek out more, is what I should be doing differently. I hope we’ll get to a place where anyone can tell me if I’ve done something really annoying or am blocking them. It’s early days, but I’m positive about the process.