May 28, 2024
min read

How to Have an Effective 1-on-1 Meeting

Luis Minvielle

One-on-one meetings are rated as the most useful meeting according to workers in tech, above retrospective and team meetings. On top of that, workers who compared weekly 1:1 meetings with yearly reviews said that when they had weekly meetings, they were five times more likely to get good, actionable feedback than when they had a dreadful once-a-year round-up.

Though there’s no general format for 1:1 meetings, this article discusses how to make the most of them by relying on common-sense professional etiquette, such as respecting other people’s time and learning how to ask for help. We will share with tech employees and managers how to make meetings constructive, informative, and not as awful as they can sometimes be.

Why are 1:1 meetings important?

It’s not uncommon for managers to have a blind spot when it comes to 1:1 meetings. Some view them as a chore, hold them infrequently, or manage them poorly. This can leave team members feeling disconnected and unsupported, both in their work and emotionally. In fact, a report revealed that while 94% of managers hold 1:1s, only half of employees have them monthly, and a mere 20% find them effective.

The best managers, however, recognise that 1:1 meetings are central to their role and not an afterthought. These leaders see 1:1s as a space where true leadership happens. With 1:1s, they can get hold of what the workers are doing—finishing on a project but finding a roadblock—and improve employee motivation.

For employees, regular 1:1s can offer them clear direction, timely and dedicated feedback, and a space to discuss challenges and find solutions alongside their manager. Studies show that 90% of workers are more likely to stay with an employer that takes and acts on feedback. 

Source: Hypercontext

The ideal 1:1 meeting template

The template works for both entry-level workers and for managers. However, it’s easier to explain from a manager’s perspective, which is what we’ll be using.

Tech managers who have to work with async teams have reported that these four succinct questions are excellent starters:

  • How are you feeling today?
  • What are you working on? Or, what you’ll be working on this week?
  • Do you have any roadblocks right now?
  • What are our next steps?

These four questions should be embedded in a weekly, predictable, half-an-hour 1:1 meeting scheduled on both parties’ calendars.

If the async part is rigid, managers can automate these questions over a messaging channel. The worker will know that these questions are a standard part of business and that their manager is using them to help them. Workers, on their end, should prepare these answers in advance, at least.

Employees rarely set up 1:1 against their managers; it’s the other way around. But if you plan to be proactive (or don’t want to dread your empty one-on-ones), you can use that very same template. You’ll be the one answering it each week.

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Tech workers’ guide to having an effective 1:1 meeting

The most important advice to make the most of a 1:1 is to prepare it so you’re not caught completely off guard. You need to plan for the meeting. Don’t ever scramble something up during the meeting. Always dedicate at least 15 minutes to having each question answered beforehand. You should always consider these points as well:

  • Know what you want to win out of the meeting: Before each meeting, take some time to think about your objectives. For an annual performance review, it’s totally okay if your objective is: “Come out unharmed.” But for a weekly 1:1, your goal should be more forward-looking. Maybe make a task feel less stressful by asking for help, or telling your manager in advance that a certain assignment might go south.
  • Learn to ask for help, be respectful, and be clear: Remind your manager that this meeting is yours. You’re both responsible for adding items to the agenda and coming prepared to discuss them. A clear meeting description in your calendar invite is the most professional, respectful way you can own your meeting and ask for help. When you ask for help, you are obligated to use your silver bullet for your own good, and a 1:1 meeting with a specific, concrete, relatable request is the best approach.

During the meeting, don’t let feedback sit idle.  After you’ve given or received feedback, figure out your next steps, even if it’s just “I need a week to reflect on this.”

Also, show your manager you’re serious about feedback. In your next 1:1, mention the feedback again and discuss progress. If specific action steps were set, actively follow through and update your manager. Regular progress updates speak of your commitment to their views and your will to grow professionally.

Don’t be afraid of being honest with your manager. Also, don’t expect your manager to be a mind reader. As the “Iceberg of ignorance” concept suggests, anything you don’t tell her, she will probably never know. The same goes for you: be open to receiving feedback from your manager and see this as an opportunity for growth.

Source: Kathleen Allen

💡Try to dig deeper for more information than just a week’s project

We all know status updates are important, but 1:1 meetings shouldn’t be just about project timelines. These meetings are a big opportunity to get a heads-up about what each other party wants to do with their jobs—such as leave the company or switch teams. You don't want to be thrown off guard by your manager’s departure. In any case, you should learn about it a month earlier, so you can kick off the adequate mechanisms to replace her in that position.

These meetings are also a good time to gather corporate gossip. A 1:1 meeting is a good time to probe about if there’s any exit coming soon, or if layoffs are being brought up by management. Don’t let the meeting run and realise you’ve been talking for half an hour about the same project-related issue you had discussed the day before by e-mail.

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Manager’s guide for successful 1:1 meetings

We’ve established the value of 1:1 meetings. Now for managers: here are some key steps you can focus on to make 1:1 meetings useful:

Before the meeting

Rushing through a rigid agenda isn’t the goal. Instead, take some time beforehand to write down talking points. This helps you focus and avoid forgetting important things during the meeting.

  • Explain what 1:1s are not: Be very explicit and tell your team that these aren’t performance reviews or micromanaging practices. You will hear the sighs of relief from a mile away.
  • Set the frequency of your 1:1s: Decide how often to meet with each team member. Weekly 30-minute meetings are a good starting point, but you might need to adjust based on your team size. For experienced team members who work together frequently, bi-weekly meetings might work well. Yet, to avoid discrepancies, it’s better to spend broadly the same amount of time with every employee each month. Many managers find it more convenient to do it early in the morning.
  • Avoid rescheduling: Cancelling 1:1 meetings sends a message to your team that they’re not a priority or that you’re too busy to even commit to some time with them. It’d be like missing out on a weekly sales call.
  • Book only thirty minutes and never go past the limit: Not even to ramble. If you need more time, book a different meet-up in advance and with a clear agenda.

You must always have an agenda. When you have a meeting with an agenda (the topics that you’ll discuss), you implicitly respect other people’s time. The best way to have an agenda for every meeting is to leave a template on the calendar invitation that the employees will know that they should have answered before the meeting starts. Also, you can proactively add a fifth question that your employee should answer within the same invitation: “Is there anything you want to discuss today?” This advice runs twice in this article because both ends should hold it.

Source: Hypercontext

During the meeting

These tips will help you turn your 1:1 into a conversation with your team member. It’s true that many tips for 1:1 meetings stand true for both regular employees and management. But, out of the whole lot, these might be the most differential, since they involve the manager proactively making the employee flow with the meet.

  • Listen up, talk not as much: Studies show the more your team member speaks in a 1:1, the better. Aim for them to talk somewhere between 50% and 90% of the time. This means you need to listen carefully to their thoughts and concerns before offering your own ideas. Consider and validate what they’re saying, even if you disagree.
  • Use examples: Only once you’ve listened closely, you can add your perspective. Use examples to show you’ve been there and done that.
  • Be open to changes: While an agenda can be helpful, be flexible and allow the conversation to flow naturally if something more pressing comes up. Just don’t make it past the thirty minutes.
  • End with clear next steps: Before wrapping up the meeting, clarify key takeaways and action items for both of you. Make it about “our” next steps here.
Source: Hypercontext

Before having your first 1:1 meeting, you need to land a job

Whether you’re a seasoned professional looking for a new job or you’re just starting out, whether you have attended a few 1:1 meetings during your career or none, WeAreDevelopers can help you land the ideal job as a software engineer. 

We’re a specialised job board connecting top tech talent in Europe with leading companies. Browse our extensive job listings featuring entry-level, senior, and remote positions—there’s something for everyone. Good luck!

How to Have an Effective 1-on-1 Meeting

May 28, 2024
min read

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