Posted on 5 mins read

What is a 1:1 ?

A 1:1 (“one to one”) is a meeting between yourself and your line manager. Unfortunately most 1:1’s end up being some form of status (or project) update, which isn’t good because the focus of a 1:1 is for you to communicate with your line manager how you’re doing and not how the project is going †

† that’s what project/product managers are for.

When should they happen?

1:1’s should happen regularly. Typically they are scheduled once a week, although fortnightly is more practical for some people.

If you’re a line manager, then you should always do these meetings. Never skip or reschedule a 1:1 as it gives a bad impression (i.e. you don’t feel that person you’re supposed to be meeting is as important as something else on your plate). As a manager, and I think most would agree, one of your biggest priorities is your staff.

How long should a 1:1 be?

At least thirty minutes, no less as there just isn’t enough time to really get into what’s on someones mind. If you schedule a fifteen minute 1:1, then this again suggests you don’t have time or care enough to fit your direct report into your schedule.

What do we talk about?

Anything. Literally, whatever is on your mind.

Got an issue with someone at work? Talk about it. Got problems at home with a new born baby? Talk about it. Got ideas for ways to improve company communication? Talk about it!

Remember, what you talk about doesn’t always have to be centered around work. If you’re having trouble sleeping (whether that’s because you have a new born baby or you’ve hurt your back from being sat in an office chair all day), then talk about it!

Just for an example, your line manager could be receiving feedback from others that your productivity has dropped recently, and so talking about your problems can help them understand the reason behind the productivity drop. But more importantly, this gives your line manager an opportunity to help you.

These meetings should be a safe space for you to share how you’re feeling, and that’s important because if you’re not feeling great (for whatever reason, whether it be physical or emotional issues), then that’s ultimately going to have an affect on your performance.

For a line manager, the 1:1 is their opportunity to perform weekly ‘preventive maintenance’ and to understand the overall health of their team. If they do their job right, then they are rewarded with good work from their teams and don’t have any sudden built-up frustrations turning into drama or someone resigning.

What about the silent types?

Now not everyone is going to be overly talkative, and so it’s the line manager’s responsibility to tease out the conversation.

The most common question a line manager will (or should) ask is:

“How Are You?”

But if the response is a nonchalant “Not bad”, then the line manager might have to resort to some other options for kick starting a meaningful conversation. Some examples could be:

  1. Mini performance review
  2. A current disaster
  3. How to improve X

Remember, we don’t want the 1:1 to be a status/project update.

Direct Report

If you are the direct report, and you have nothing to say or have zero issues with any thing happening in the company (which to me would be doubtful), then just be aware that the meeting (if not handled properly) could turn into a status update and that’s ultimately a pointless use of everyones time.

So try and make an effort to care about what’s going on in the organisation, as there is usually always something that can be discussed.

Line Manager

If you are the line manager, then use the above three points to help guide the conversation to a meaningful topic that benefits both yourself and your direct report.

A mini performance review is great because we should always be looking at keeping staff on track with their goals. In order to do this we need to understand their dreams and what they want from life, so start the discussion there and that will help you to understand how you can guide their progress.

Discussing a current disaster is a good way to get some feedback on a topic that’s important to the company and allows you to get the perspective of someone either not involved in the problem space or who doesn’t even work in the same area of the business. This equally allows the direct report to feel included and that their opinions matter.

Lastly, choosing an area of the business where you feel could use some improvement is also a good option for opening up the discussion and having a meaningful 1:1, and it results in similar benefits as mentioned in the previous comment.

Dealing with an issue

If you’re a line manager, then there are two types of issues:

  1. Mild
  2. Serious

The first is someone just venting frustrations, the second is where they’ve reached their limits and have exploded their anger all over you.

In both cases you should:

  • Say nothing (for now).
  • Listen.
  • Do not attempt to problem solve (yet).
  • Do not comfort or try to take away their experience.

Once they have had an opportunity to say what they need to (or if they’re that angry, you may find them repeating themselves and so at some point you might have to interject), then you can start to identify the various moving pieces of:

  • What’s the next steps?
  • How do we get there as quickly and efficiently as possible?
  • How do we prevent this issue from happening again?

If you’re the direct report and you’re the one who is ready to explode, then this is a good example of why it’s important to have frequent, quality and effective 1:1’s. They allow a lot of issues to be caught ahead of time.