Michael Banner
Michael Banner: Leading in Tech

Michael Banner: Leading in Tech

Running Effective 1-1s with your reports

Running Effective 1-1s with your reports

Top 10 tips for more successful 1-1s

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Michael Banner

Published on Dec 24, 2021

7 min read

Table of contents

What are 1-1s?

These meetings might be known by a few different names ranging from "a chat with my manager" to "1-on-1", "1-to-1", "weekly check-in" etc.

However, the underlying purpose of the meeting remains the same regardless of what it might be called in your own company. They are a means of having regular opportunities to check in with your line manager to ensure you are supported in your role, as well as a chance to receive some coaching on how to solve problems you might be facing.

In this short article I will cover my top-10 tips for what I think an effective 1-1 looks like. This is part of a management series that I am writing, so inherently is geared more towards line managers who are performing / looking to perform 1-1s with their direct reports. However, even as the individual being managed you should be able to use these tips to gauge where things could be improved further to increase the effectiveness of the meeting.

The tips!

1. Set a regular cadence

It goes without saying that habits are born out of repetition (as well as breaking them, but that goes against what I'm trying to say here...).

By setting a regular cadence for 1-1s with your reports, it embeds the expectation that there will always be a regular opportunity for them to talk about things and avoid bottling tonnes of things up - this only results in a massive splurging session where things can be difficult to cover and leave everybody feeling in a state of limbo.

The cadence of a 1-1 can ultimately be whatever you want, however, I have always found that somewhere between once a week and once every two weeks works well.

Secret inner tip!

Let your report set their own cadence. After all, this meeting is mainly about them and hence they should feel in control.

2. Have an agenda

1-1s are generally fairly informal sessions between an individual and their line manager. Even with this formality, it's still important to set some expectation for the things that will be spoken about. This gives people time to prepare with potential answers and expectations on where conversations might go, and ultimately increase the productivity of the session overall.

We're not talking full-blown agendas here, a simple bullet list of things to be raised is more than enough. This also comes from both directions, from the report and from the manager.

3. Come prepared

Were there any actions from last time? Did you do them?

In alignment with tip #2, coming prepared based on the agenda and any previous actions means that the meeting will inherently become more productive. It also provides greater comfort to your report by giving them the proof that you actually listen to them and act on things you say you will.

4. Listen carefully

This one is pretty self explanatory.

Don't be that manager who sits in the meeting on their laptop whilst "listening". Give your report the direct attention that they deserve and remove any distractions from arms reach.

5. Talk about career progression

1-1s are inherently a great time to look at the personal development of your reports. They might have personal objectives that they are working towards as part of their wider career development, or even towards some project-specific work.

Use some time in 1-1s to check in on the progress of such objectives and see if they need any support.

Where relevant, use coaching techniques to help draw out more thoughts from your report to help them get to the place they need to be. You could also offer some form of mentoring here if you have previously been in a similar situation and hold experience.

6. Have a living document / note taking

Although 1-1s can feel informal and pretty casual, they're super important. Some (most) of the things that will be discussed are really important. Such conversations are generally around issues an individual might be experiencing, support they need on a particular skillset, career growth etc.

Using a tool such as Notion.so or even a simplistic Google Doc that gets appended to, a living document can provide a means for both report and manager to check in to previous discussions and assess progress. It also means that nothing can really go unnoticed and key points are recorded.

7. Follow up on actions

"Do as you say"

As a manager you are in a very privileged position. Your reports look to you for your support and guidance, so do your best to stick to your word.

If there are any actions against your name following a 1-1, make sure you set reasonable timescales with your report so that expectations are set accordingly. Be realistic in your commitment so that there is clarity for both parties, and to reduce the likelihood of failing to complete your task.

Keeping your word and getting the answers that your report seeks only go to further build the rapport between you and your report.

8. Give and receive feedback

Feedback is a critical part of personal development and it should be viewed as a continuous cycle. Elon Musk sums it up nicely:

“I think it’s very important to have a feedback loop, where you’re constantly thinking about what you’ve done and how you could be doing it better.” – Elon Musk

By providing feedback, you're opening up discussions around areas where an individual can either:

  • continue to do the things they're doing
  • stop doing things
  • start or improve new things

As a manager you might not have the day-to-day face time with your direct reports, so utilise the other team members to elicit feedback. Have the peers of your report drop you a few notes on their recent performance is a great way to get some useful feedback from the "shop floor".

I could write a whole article on feedback (which will probably follow in this series), however, I just want to finish this section with an excellent model that I was told about a few years ago.

Johari Window

The Johari Window model is used to receive feedback and perform self-reflection. As shown in the image below, there are two sweet spots (in my opinion).

The top right (not known to self, but known to others) is an excellent zone which presents peers with an opportunity to highlight observations about an individual that was unknown to them. This might be habits, areas which are lacking knowledge etc.

The bottom left (known to self, but not known to others) is another zone where the individual can reflect on their experience and knowledge and decide when to surface this.

johari-window-theory-open-blind-hidden-unknown-vector-31928925.jpeg

9. Book in a little extra time

Although 1-1s are usually fairly short meetings (around 30-60 minutes), it is always best to over-commit on the time allocated to the session. It is better to have 45 minutes booked in the diary and only use 20 since everything has been raised by yourself and your report.

Defining the exact amount of time to allocate is down to personal preference, your report and in some case your availability (although I'd always do my best to accommodate my reports).

10. Avoid cancelling 1-1s (* see disclaimer)

Let's face it, things get in the way, critical meetings crop up, the pipes burst under the sink or you simply fall unwell. There are times when cancelling a 1-1 is simply inevitable, however I would strongly recommend that this does't happen whenever possible.

*Disclaimer: Cancelling the odd meeting isn't the end of the world, but if it starts to become a habit then your report will begin to lose faith in your support as a manager. Additionally, you will miss out on the opportunities to get the continued communication with your team members and help them where needed.

If you must cancel, seek to rearrange at the earliest opportunity. If I have something else crop up that I can't get out of, I will drop my reports a message and seek to either move the time of their 1-1 that same day, or get them to suggest the next available time that works for them. This way they remain in control and don't feel let down.

Summary

So these are 10 of my tips for running successful 1-1s. These are from my own personal experience, so I would be interested to see what other opinions you may have!

I hope you found this article useful.

 
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