“socks love” by Milkyprint

My 1:1 approach

How I structure and approach my favourite people management practice

We all love 1:1’s. Or at least we should. If you are a people manager, I do not have to tell you that it is one of the most important tools in your toolbox. And if you need convincing, just ask Google about it.

Because it is such a popular practice, there is lots of advice out there about how to get the most out of your 1:1’s. Over the years, I have experimented with and incorporated new techniques. In this article, I share my current approach. One thing is for sure though: It will change again soon, even if it is only a little.

I will not and cannot tell you the secret sauce to 1:1’s. Because there is none. Some of it might work for you, some will not. It depends on your role, company, culture and lots of other things. But I hope you will take something away that you are going to try next week.

My Goal

1:1’s can be used for a lot of things. For me, it has boiled down to one primary objective:

Get a feel for what is happening in my colleague’s world.

I want to get honest insights into how the other person is feeling. Find out what is on their mind. Are they in a good or bad state? What do they enjoy working on? What annoyed them? Is there anything I can do to help? Is there anything that should be brought up with the wider group?

Having Meaningful Conversations

To get some insights into my colleague’s world, I have established some rules and tactics. Some are for myself — the mindset I want to bring to a 1:1. Some I share with my report to set some expectations upfront.

Expectations

Before I start doing 1:1’s with a person, I share some clear ground rules.

I do 1:1's to assist my colleague. It is their time with me. Therefore, I expect the topics to be largely report driven. In other words, I will not dictate the agenda. In the rare case I have something to talk about, I will share it upfront in Slack.

I generally avoid giving feedback. In most instances, it should be given in the moment, not at a pre-defined time. The only exception is giving feedback about something that is discussed in the meeting, or if I get asked for it directly.

Once in a while, I will ask for feedback about how I am doing as a manager. I announce this before the meeting, to make sure folks can prepare. At most though, this happens once a month. I found it too much to ask for feedback every single time we meet.

Mindset

The second half of my approach is all about getting to the important and insightful bits. Insightful for myself, as well as for my report.

By default, I start out with a coaching mindset. Because I do not bring an agenda, I rely on my counterpart to bring talking points. The key in a coaching conversation is to be open to anything that comes my way and to be willing to dive in.

Diving in means to spend most of my time listening. At its core I want to listen, ask a What or How question, then listen again. And repeat until I have a reasonable account of what is on their mind. Only then is when I switch into a more advising role. To help solve the problem or help my colleague identify what to do next.

Most of the time, this is giving me good insights into topics that are front and centre for the other person. And in the case nothing meaty comes up, I still have a few conversation-starting questions handy:

  • What did you find the most frustrating last week? What was the most enjoyable?
  • Where do you want to be in 3–5 years?
  • Or use any of these questions from people I learned lots from

The general approach stays the same though. Listen, Ask a What or How question. Repeat.

Logistics

The section above describes my approach to maximise the chances of impactful 1:1’s. On top of that, I have established a simple process to help stay on top of things:

  • Each report has a private, dedicated slack channel.
  • I always take notes during the meeting, which I share in the channel after the meeting. I encourage my report to share their notes as well — if they have any.
  • The slack channel is also used to announce and remember topics for the next meeting.
  • When and how long we meet I leave for my report to decide. I only have one request: We meet either weekly or fortnightly for at least 30 minutes. What day of the week or time is up to each individual.
  • We set goals every quarter, and check-in on them roughly once a month during the 1:1.