As an engineering leader and a certified coach, I’ve had the opportunity to gain extensive experience in one-on-one meetings with team members. I’m here to share my insights on how to make them a valuable and productive experience for everyone involved.
This description is in a constant state of evolution, labeled as ‘perpetual beta’. It doesn’t claim perfection; instead, it’s the product of my experiences in the trenches, marked by numerous mistakes and a few successes.
One-on-one meetings are not mere status updates. They serve a more profound purpose:
- Maintain ongoing communication: These meetings are an opportunity to keep the lines of communication open between the manager and the team member.
- Manager’s role: In these meetings, the manager’s primary role is to listen, clarify, and provide support. It’s the place for the manager to deliver feedback to the team member.
- Listening to understand: As a manager, your goal is to understand your team members better. This includes their perspectives on what’s working and what isn’t, their aspirations, and any obstacles they face.
- Discover motivation: Managers should strive to understand why their team members come to work, what they want to achieve, and what’s currently bothering them in their roles.
Scheduling and Frequency
- Agree on the best time: Scheduling a one-on-one meeting should be a collaborative effort. Find a time that works for both the manager and the team member. Flexibility is key.
- Avoid cancellations: While it’s essential to honor your commitments, it’s also acceptable to cancel a meeting if both parties understand and agree that it’s necessary. Clear communication is vital in such cases.
- Frequency: Aim to schedule these meetings every one or two weeks. This regularity allows for consistent communication without overwhelming either party.
- Duration: Allocate at least 30 minutes but no more than 60 minutes for each one-on-one meeting. This timeframe strikes a balance between depth and efficiency.
In one-on-one meetings, the team member takes the lead in setting the agenda and topics. They should communicate what’s most important to them. A high-level agenda might include:
- Informal check-in: A warm-up phase to get comfortable and set the tone.
- Results: Discuss achievements, progress, and goals.
- Development: Explore opportunities for skill-building and career growth.
- Feedback for the manager: Encourage open feedback about the manager’s performance.
- Any actions: List any actionable items and responsibilities.
Effective Questions for Managers
No need to say that asking questions is one of the most powerful tool for a leader!
Here are some powerful questions that managers can use to start and structure the meeting, and foster meaningful discussions (from Russ Laraway Radical Candor ):
- What’s on your mind this week?
- How happy were you this past week?
- How productive were you this past week?
- What feedback do you have for the manager?
I personally like to start each meeting with this simple question that allows the team member to take control of the conversation:
- “What is on your agenda for today?”
Here is a useful link with several good questions for one-on-ones: small improvements .
Handling Silent One-on-One Meetings
Sometimes, team members might claim they have nothing to discuss during a one-on-one meeting. It’s crucial not to end the meeting abruptly but to delve deeper into the underlying reasons for their silence. Possible reasons could include a lack of trust, busyness, or even immaturity.
Here’s how to address silent one-on-one meetings:
- Acknowledge: Express understanding and empathy for the situation. Make it clear that you value their input.
- Stay informed: Emphasize the importance of keeping the manager informed about team and organizational health, even if there are no pressing issues.
- Unblock conversations: Use open-ended questions to encourage dialogue, such as:
- What has been on your mind these days?
- What’s the most exciting/interesting thing you’ve worked on since we last spoke?
- What has been the most frustrating thing for you over the past week?
- Support growth: Inquire about their learning goals and how you can assist with technical or soft skills development opportunities.
- Offer help: Always ask if there’s anything you can do to support them. This shows your commitment to their success.
In conclusion, one-on-one meetings are a potent tool for building stronger relationships, fostering communication, and supporting personal and professional growth within engineering teams. By following the agreed-upon framework, setting a clear agenda, and asking meaningful questions, both managers and team members can maximize the benefits of these meetings. Don’t shy away from addressing silence – instead, use it as an opportunity to deepen your understanding and improve collaboration.
Leadership is not a one-size-fits-all approach; it’s a mix of art and science, occasionally spiced with contradictions. I strongly encourage current and aspiring leaders to actively explore and experiment with what suits them at any given moment, always mindful that adaptation to the context is a constant necessity to generate a positive impact.
If you’re ready to take your leadership to the next level, Leadership Boot offers a free initial coaching interview to learn more about how coaching can help you get there!Book your free initial coaching interview