Need someone to lead product or development at your software company? I lead product and engineering teams and I'm looking for my next opportunity. Check out my resume and get in touch.

What should you talk about in a 1:1?

Freshness Warning
This article is over 1 year old. It's possible that the information you read below isn't current.

The first thing to remember when conducting one-on-one meetings is that this is your employee’s meeting. It’s there for them to bring things up that need discussion. It’s for them to solve problems, to make you aware of roadblocks, to celebrate successes. Because of this, the employee should drive most of the agenda.

You might have some things to bring up, but 80% or more of the agenda to be owned by your report. (And you shouldn’t assign work in a 1:1. More on that in a future post.)

For an effective 1:1 it’s crucial that there’s an agenda. Like any other meeting, without an agenda, you’ll just wander from topic to topic and tend to miss things. I like to get an agenda the day before the 1:1. This is mostly a forcing function to get the employee to think about what they want to talk about and to maintain a list of topics that come up throughout the week. If they have to send an agenda, they’ll find it’s easier to build one over the course of a week than it is to make one up from scratch each time. This has a side effect of helping ensure you’re not just talking about whatever issues are recent and top of mind, but covering things that are deeper than that.

It also helps me prepare. If I know they want to talk about funding for Project Unicorn, I can be ready with the budgets for that project or ask Finance for the latest status before I walk into the meeting.

If someone doesn’t have an agenda at all, I’ll spend the first 3 minutes discussing the agenda. What are the bullet points you want to talk about today?

The key to having effective 1:1s is to keep them from becoming status reporting meetings. Status should be reported in email, and if I have a report that’s just giving me status reports in our 1:1, I’ll ask them to start sending me a status report by email or chat on Friday afternoons or Monday mornings. Give them another channel for this, so they won’t want to duplicate efforts by discussing it live. That said, occasionally, someone really just needs to talk through what they’ve going on. Try and recognize the difference between “I have nothing else to say, so here’s a list of what I’m working on” and “I’ve got a lot going on and I could use a sounding board while I list it all off.”

Likewise, you’ll want to avoid doing work during the 1:1s. The 1:1 is about improving the way you work, not about improving the work. If your report needs to talk in depth about their ideas for how to accomplish Project Unicorn, get them to set up another meeting about that. If you start letting the 1:1s become working sessions, you’ll lose the benefits of having 1:1s. You can always schedule a working meeting, but you can’t really add a new 1:1.

The 1:1 should be reserved for harder conversations. What’s your report having problems with right now? Where can they use your help? What are they doing that’s hard, where are they overwhelmed? How are they doing as a human?

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

Recently Written

A framework for onboarding new employees (May 15)
There’s no single good way to onboard an employee that works for every role. Here's a framework for creating a process that you can adapt to each situation.
TV hosts as a guide for software managers (May 10)
Software managers can learn a lot from journalists or late night TV hosts and how they interview people.
The Improvement Flywheel (Apr 29)
An incredible flywheel for the improvement of a development team. Fix a few things, and everything starts getting better.
Managers and technical ability (Dec 26)
In technical fields, the closer you are to the actual work being done, the closer your skills need to resemble those of the people doing the work.
Dysfunctions of output-oriented software teams (Sep 17)
Whatever you call it, the symptom is that you're measuring your progress by how much you build and deliver instead of measuring success by the amount of customer value you create.
Evaluative and generative product development (Aug 30)
Customers never even talk to the companies that don't fit their needs at all. If the only product ideas you're considering are those that meet the needs of your current customers, then you're only going to find new customers that look exactly like your current customers.
Product Manager Career Ladder (Aug 19)
What are the steps along the product management career path?
Building the Customer-Informed Product (Aug 15)
Strong products aren't composed of a list of features dictated by customers. They are guided by strong visions, and the execution of that vision is the primary focus of product development.

Older...

What I'm Reading

Contact

Adam Kalsey

+1 916 600 2497

Resume

Public Key

© 1999-2020 Adam Kalsey.