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

Freshness Warning
This blog post is over 3 years old. It's possible that the information you read below isn't current and the links no longer work.

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.

Recently Written

The Trap of The Sales-Led Product (Dec 10)
It’s not a winning way to build a product company.
The Hidden Cost of Custom Customer Features (Dec 7)
One-off features will cost you more than you think and make your customers unhappy.
Domain expertise in Product Management (Nov 16)
When you're hiring software product managers, hire for product management skills. Looking for domain experts will reduce the pool of people you can hire and might just be worse for your product.
Strategy Means Saying No (Oct 27)
An oft-overlooked aspect of strategy is to define what you are not doing. There are lots of adjacent problems you can attack. Strategy means defining which ones you will ignore.
Understanding vision, strategy, and execution (Oct 24)
Vision is what you're trying to do. Strategy is broad strokes on how you'll get there. Execution is the tasks you complete to complete the strategy.
How to advance your Product Market Fit KPI (Oct 21)
Finding the gaps in your product that will unlock the next round of growth.
Developer Relations as Developer Success (Oct 19)
Outreach, marketing, and developer evangelism are a part of Developer Relations. But the companies that are most successful with developers spend most of their time on something else.
Developer Experience Principle 6: Easy to Maintain (Oct 17)
Keeping your product Easy to Maintain will improve the lives of your team and your customers. It will help keep your docs up to date. Your SDKs and APIs will be released in sync. Your tooling and overall experience will shine.


What I'm Reading


Adam Kalsey

+1 916 600 2497


Public Key

© 1999-2022 Adam Kalsey.