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What agenda items should a manager bring to a 1:1?

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While most of a 1:1 agenda should be driven by the employee, there’s certain things you need to be getting from the meeting, too. And having an agenda for these is the way to make sure that happens.

So what goes on that agenda? The first rule is that you don’t want to use this time to assign new projects.

This seems weird, but it’s generally a bad idea to assign work during a 1:1. Same with asking about the state of a project. If you want someone to start a new project, schedule a specific kickoff meeting about it. Ask for status outside of the 1:1.

The 1:1 is there to talk about how we work, and to improve the work. If you start talking about what the work is, you’ll find that your 1:1s devolve into 15 minute status conversations instead of deep, meaningful discussions.

When putting things on an agenda for a 1:1, I’m generally covering a few categories. The most obvious is company news. If it’s potentially disruptive, I’ll carve out time to talk about it. I’ll give my take on it and ask for theirs. A real -world example: The part of Cisco I work in has been goin g through a reorganization, and my team reports to a completely different part of the company now. I told my team individually in 1:1s about the coming changes before the mass announcement. The team move has been messy due to some HR bureaucracy issues, so a portion of my 1:1s has been devoted to discussing this with my team to make sure they stay comfortable.

Another fairly obvious thing for your 1:1s is to use them to discover blockers. Most engineers are pretty good about calling these out on their own, but you can also help them discover issues that they aren’t seeing. If you notice something is taking longer than usual, diving into why can help you identify places that you can help. The test builds are taking forever on their laptop, so an engineer waiting around a lot. They may not see this as a blocker or something you can help with. But you know that several people have the problem and can allocate budget for a dedicated test build server.

In 1:1s I’m also looking for career development opportunities in my team. What do they want to be doing that they’re not today? You can explicitly ask this question, or just look for things they have an aptitude and interest in. How can they help their teammates grow and learn new things?

My agenda often includes performance feedback, both from me and about me. Performance feedback is a hard thing for people to give their manager, so you need to ask for it. When you ask, it needs to be something more than “where can i improve” because no one’s going to answer that honestly.

I’ll ask them how much of their daily tasks I’m involved in, and if that’s too much or too little. I’ll ask what they wish I was doing that I’m not doing.

You’ll also want to build relationships souring your 1:1s. You don’t want to stick “act human” as an explicit agenda item, but make time during the meeting to talk about their families, their hobbies, and discuss yours with them.

A lot of the time I won’t have these things on a written agenda that goes to the employee. I’ll write specific topics down during the week that I want to go over, but the agenda topics I describe above aren’t always explicit. I’m looking for hints and tells as they talk to me about other things. I have a note on my desk that lists off these items, and before going into a 1:1, I read that list. It makes these implicit agenda items stick out in my mind, and ensures I’m doing them.

At least 80% of a 1:1 agenda should be driven by your report, but if you also to use this time to work on things with them, then you’ll have better meetings.

This is one of a series of posts about holding 1:1s. View the rest of the series.

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