In one of my very first jobs, I had a manager who didn’t believe 1:1 meetings were useful, so they were not a staple of my work life. I was only summoned for private talks when something was going wrong, making me dread the interactions. A long series of sighs was my inner soundtrack in such moments, and that’s probably the experience most people have.
Years went by, and after some other jobs, I landed at a place where 1:1s were mandatory. Not knowing how to tackle them, I frantically searched for tips. Take it from me, “Those who are good at 1:1 meetings. How??” isn’t that good of a query.
However, I survived my first meetings and started to get the hang of them.
Then, surprise, surprise! I leveled up and became a manager. By then, I was preaching the benefits of 1:1 meetings whenever I had the chance, so I knew they’d continue being a regular guest on my calendar, both with my team and my boss.
If you’re here, reading this article, you’re probably looking for some guidance with this type of meeting. And you might just be in luck because, after ten years of going to this rodeo, I’m now convinced 1:1 meetings don’t have to be an exercise in mutual misery.
One-on-ones can truly help you bond with your peers and turn work into a more pleasant affair. And trust me, things like stand-ups, teambuilding exercises, or official performance reviews ain’t got nothing on 1:1s!
So, let me tell you all about 1:1 meetings and how to make them efficient. It’s time to turn your nays into yays and enjoy some quality time with your manager!
What are 1:1 meetings?
First off, let’s cover the basis.
If you research the topic of one-on-one meetings, you’ll probably see them labeled as the most important get-together you can have with your manager. Still, they’re nothing new, just like people talking about their problems is nothing new.
Formally, 1:1s have their roots in the 20th century, when modern management began developing. If you’re looking for their father figure, it’s Andrew Grove, the late Intel CEO. He’s the one who popularized the concept in his 1985 book, High Output Management. And even though that book is now more than 35 years old, it still stands and gets referenced a lot. Even you are about to get your fair share of quotes from it.
Here’s Grove’s take on one-on-one meetings, in a rather formal language:
“[At Intel] a one-on-one is a meeting between a supervisor and a subordinate, and it is the principal way their business relationship is maintained. Its main purpose is mutual teaching and exchange of information. By talking about specific problems and situations, the supervisor teaches the subordinate his skills and know-how and suggests ways to approach things. At the same time, the subordinate provides the supervisor with detailed information about what he is doing and what he is concerned about.”
To get the full picture, you should also know that Grove started having 1:1 meetings during his first years at Intel when he had to oversee two departments he wasn’t familiar with. So he asked his reports to set up appointments and school him on their teams, just as if he was a student.
The strategy worked, and 1:1s were widely adopted in the tech corporation. As time went by, people and the human factor started taking center stage during the meetings. Grove encouraged his managers to dig deep for issues and care for the wellbeing of people.
Something must have gone right because 1:1s spread across Silicon Valley and outside the tech bubble as well, with various degrees of success.
Nowadays, one-on-one meetings are anticipated conversations with a manager. They’re guided by open-ended questions and cover everything from professional to personal issues.
And it’s fair to say they can also be quite polarizing topics.
In his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things, the multi-hyphenated American entrepreneur Ben Horowitz of VC firm Andreessen-Horowitz tackles the topic:
“Generally, people who think one-on-one meetings are a bad idea have been victims of poorly designed ones. The key to a good one-on-one meeting is the understanding that it is the employee’s meeting rather than the manager’s meeting. This is the free-form meeting for all the pressing issues, brilliant ideas, and chronic frustrations that do not fit neatly into status reports, email, and other less personal and intimate mechanisms.”
Understanding, free-form, personal. You can already tell why some managers would like to avoid 1:1s. They require serious time investments, excellent coaching and mentoring skills, an open mind, and the ability to have honest, difficult conversations. And being that human or showing appreciation at work isn’t always easy.
But 1:1s are vital to the health of any company. People need such dedicated spaces to express themselves, even when their managers already have an open door policy. That’s because their nature helps:
- Build rapport.
- Develop strong working relationships.
- Nip problems in the bud.
- And increase motivation.
Music to everyone’s ears, right?
So, if you have to pick one meeting to keep on your calendar, make it your 1:1. The benefits make it all worth it. And no worries, I got you covered with all the details.
If you’re ready to fall in love with 1:1 meetings, let’s start working on your framework and mindset, aka the magical ingredients for chats with your manager.
Seven tactics for efficient 1:1 meetings
Before we start, I need to come out and say it: there’s no one perfect recipe for 1:1 meetings. Every company, every team, and every manager-individual contributor dynamic, is different.
However, here are seven things you can do to have your 1:1s meet your professional and personal needs.
1. Make 1:1s a habit
“To make the most of this kind of meeting, we should aim to infuse it with regularity.”
Those are some wise words, my friend, as one-on-one meetings are not some one-hit wonders.
The number one rule for 1:1s is that they need to happen on the regular. Like any relationship, it takes time and involvement to build trust with your manager and have a rapport with them.
Going back to Ben Horowitz, in his New York Times bestseller, The Hard Things About Hard Things, he shares the story of how he almost fired two of his managers. The reason? They hadn’t conducted 1-on-1s in over six months! That’s how essential 1:1s are for this highly influential businessman.
So, take a page from his book. Put your 1:1s on the calendar and treat them as essential. And once you have a couple of good ones, I bet you’ll realize why so many people, myself included, say they’re the most important meetings you can have.
Of course, life rarely goes as planned. If you want to cancel a 1:1, don’t. Reschedule instead. Downright canceling could signal your manager that the meetings are not important or beneficial to you, potentially leading to a complete stop.
The same also goes for your manager. If a declined invitation lands in your inbox, make sure to reschedule it asap and address the issues in the next 1:1.
When it comes to frequency, there’s no one-fits-all number for 1:1s; just don’t schedule them too far apart. They can happen weekly, twice, or once a month, and it all depends on your needs.
For example, when you’re new on a team, and you need to learn the ropes fast, a weekly 1:1 shortens your feedback loop and gets you right on track quicker. When you’re familiar with the company’s inner workings and feel more comfortable in your role, you can see your manager in a private setup less often.
Wondering how long should a 1:1 last? Let’s hear it from Andrew Grove again, who’s a big fan of the word subordinate, as you might have noticed:
“There really is no answer to this, but the subordinate must feel that there is enough time to broach and get into thorny issues. Look at it this way. If you had a big problem that you wanted to kick around with your supervisor —the person whose professional interest in the matter is second only to yours—would you want to bring it up in a meeting scheduled to last only fifteen minutes? You would not. I feel that a one-on-one should last an hour at a minimum. Anything less, in my experience, tends to make the subordinate confine himself to simple things that can be handled quickly.”
Before we move one, one word of caution here: do not cancel your 1:1s when you feel you’re doing OK. That’s a trap, and you really shouldn’t be seeing your manager when something’s wrong.
Keep showing up, keep building that trust with your manager, keep getting better, baby!
2. Demand and expect a safe space
OK, let’s get real for a second.
One-on-ones can be the bee’s knees IF you bring your whole self to them. Without honesty and the confidence you can speak your mind, there’s no chance of a productive meeting with your manager.
So, change your perspective. Forget about the dynamic for a bit, and step into your power. During your 1:1, you’re the star, and it’s all about you and what you got to say.
In the beginning, it might be challenging to bring up any thorny issue. But, if you start small and see there’s no judgment coming your way, it’ll build up your confidence and cement your relationship with your boss.
To foster a psychologically safe space, you can also expect your manager to:
- Listen to what otherwise would go unsaid.
- Respect you as a person and your right to highlight problems.
- Be your ally in getting to the root cause of problems.
- Hone in transparency and honesty.
- Understand your perspective.
- Address your concerns.
- Disclose their own weaknesses.
- Be on your side and fully support you.
- Highlight learning opportunities for you.
- Encourage a problem-solving mindset.
- Stimulate your creative thinking.
It’s unrealistic to expect yourself to check your emotions at the door when you’re at work. So take the opportunity to be candid during your 1:1s. Otherwise, you risk having a fake smile stuck on your face and a voodoo doll for your boss at home.
And since we’re on the topic of space, there’s also the physical aspect of it.
When not online, be mindful of where your 1:1s are taking place and tailor the location to your needs. A private meeting room can be fine, but sometimes you can relax things and take your conversation to a common lounge area or even outside the office.
3. Come with an agenda
“During the meeting, since it’s the employee’s meeting, the manager should do 10 percent of the talking and 90 percent of the listening. Note that this is the opposite of most one-on-ones.”
If you want a productive 1:1 meeting, you need to prepare for it and have an agenda. There’s no other way around it, as winging it won’t get you far in this case.
A plan helps you make sure all that matters to you gets the time of day, and things don’t fall through the cracks. Do your due diligence and write things down as they come up for you during the week, instead of trying to put together a list at the last minute.
The consensus is you should share your agenda with your manager before the 1:1. This sets the stage for your conversation and allows you to get straight to it without having to present background info on your topics.
Agendas are also great for keeping track of everything you’ve discussed during your meetings and can help you organize your notes.
However, don’t make things too formal and allow for flexibility. It’s perfectly fine to spend a meeting sharing personal stories and bonding. But when there’s something specific you want to discuss, having a list can make a big difference.
And if you’re drawing a blank as to what should be on your own agenda, keep reading. At the end of this article, I’ll share with you 30 questions to jumpstart the process.
4. Share your feedback, but don’t ask for it
- Are you happy with your job?
- Is there anything you’d like to change?
- What’s going well? What isn’t?
“While it’s not the manager’s job to set the agenda or do the talking, the manager should try to draw the key issues out of the employee. The more introverted the employee, the more important this becomes.”
5. Discuss your career and personal growth
6. Ask how you can help
7. Keep track of everything’s that’s discussed
30 questions to consider before your next 1:1 meeting
- General questions to get the conversation started.
- Achievement-oriented questions, allowing you to highlight your success.
- Roadblocks you need help with.
- Workload-inspection questions.
- Communication inquiries to make sure everything’s going smoothly.
- Feedback-sharing moments.
- Career development inquiries.
- Personal topics impacting your professional life.
Did you find any small aha moments while reading the questions? Because ideally, you now have the blueprint for your next one-on-one.
Use it wisely, and you might be in for a really productive 1:1 meeting.
Make 1:1 meetings a breeze with Mirro
For having great 1:1 meetings that leave me feeling connected and in the know, I rely on Mirro.
This all-in-one performance management software helps me be productive and make the most of this precious meeting time.
With Mirro, I can drive growth and focus on what truly matters. I use it to:
- Make sure onboardings are going smoothly.
- Set OKRs.
- Have established check-in routines with both my manager and team.
- Find out how people on my team would describe their recent results and learn all about their insights.
- Discover what they’d like to improve and achieve next.
- Inquire how I could support them.
- Their satisfaction level in their current role.
- Track progress and see how far along we’ve come.
- Balance workloads and go for stretch goals.
- Share updates with people in the company.
And because all of these translate to a more streamlined work-life, Mirro has even made my remote working more bearable.
Having Mirro as a sidekick means I can now get everyone in sync, nurture my team, and fuel a culture of growth and transparency. Which, to be honest, has been a dream turned into reality.
If you, too, want to reach new peaks of performance and have some really great 1:1 meetings, make sure to check out Mirro. Couple it with a calendar and get ready to send your productivity into overdrive.
I hope you’ve enjoyed all the 1:1 tips and tricks I’ve shared with you here. If you have your own, please let me know in the comment section below.
At the end of the day, the key to good 1:1 meetings is having them often and tailoring them to your needs. They don’t have to be perfect straight away, and I’m sure you’ll get the hang of them in no time.
Share your thoughts regularly with your manager, hone in your power, and take advantage of smart platforms like Mirro to really shine.
You got this. ;)