Managing and leading teams

Why 1-1 meetings are crucial to your team’s success

The 1-1 meeting is ubiquitous at many startups, including ours. But there’s a good reason we prioritize them on our calendars (despite our best attempts to mitigate meetings). The 1-1 is the best way for managers and those who report to them to connect on pressing issues, develop a strong relationship, and ensure that employees feel like they’re working toward their goals – at work, and otherwise. Without a proper framework, agenda, and mindset, however, the 1-1 meeting can become just another meeting in your day. Here’s our tactical game plan for making the 1-1 meeting your most important meeting, whether you’re a manager or individual contributor.

What is a 1-1 meeting?

"You spend so much time finding great people, it’s worth it to help them grow to be the best they can be." Justin Rosenstein, (Co-Founder, Asana)

A 1-1 is a dedicated space on the calendar and in your mental map for open-ended and anticipated conversation between a manager and an employee. Unlike status reports or tactical meetings, the 1-1 meeting is a place for coaching, mentorship, giving context, or even venting. The 1-1 goes beyond an open door policy and dedicates time on a regular cadence for teammates and leaders to connect and communicate.

Managers: making time in your calendar

1-1s are a time to make sure you and your team are aligned. Regular check-ins stop larger issues from festering, allow for immediate and regular feedback and promote open communication. But manager schedules are often inundated with meetings so it can be difficult to find a dedicated time and space for the 1-1. To ensure you stick to a schedule, set aside 30 to 60 minutes on a weekly or bi-weekly basis with each of your team members. Don’t feel confined to a conference room: suggest getting out of the office for a walk or grabbing a coffee.

Some managers prefer to have a day dedicated to 1-1s while others sprinkle their meetings throughout the week to ensure maximum mental presence. A benefit of having meetings on the same day is setting yourself up to find linkages between what is going on with your team. Figure out which works best for you and build out your schedule to give back the most to your reports.

Getting the most out of 1-1s

There’s no one way to organize a 1-1. In fact, many factors dictate the best way to structure your meetings for success; including the emotional needs of those you manage, your relationship, and the team member’s experience level. The most important element in a successful 1-1 is creating a space where individuals feel comfortable to discuss the issues and concerns on their mind. These meetings are primarily for the employee and their participation is vital.

Asana Tip

Make a private project dedicated to your 1-1. Contribute tasks and topics to discuss. Add sections titled: Goals, Discuss this week, Revisit later.

Pre-populating the agenda ensures you cover priority topics. Make a shared agenda to not only provide context prior to the meeting but allow both parties to take ownership of the meeting. Time box the topics you know you need to cover.

Preparing for the meeting ahead of time allows you to eliminate spending time on background information and immediately get to the things that really matter.

The manager’s game plan

Begin your 1-1 with an open ended question. This allows the most important and top of mind topics to surface. Here are some questions you might try:

  • How are you feeling?
  • What is on your mind?
  • What are you most excited about?
  • What are you most worried about?
"The key challenge of the coach is to listen without a filter. A filter is a certain attitude or bias the listener takes on that inhibits his or her ability to be present with the authentic experience of the speaker." Conscious Leadership Group

Most importantly, listen to what’s being said. An important aspect of being a manager is to make sure your employees feel heard, safe and empowered. Once you’ve fully heard them, help be a facilitator of solutions. Uncover what they’re excited about, how you can mentor them to be successful, and unblock them to do their best work. Here are some tactics to ensure you create a space of trust:

  • Affirm their perspective first
  • Disclose your weaknesses, places where you’ve stumbled
  • Be unconditionally on their side/team, even (and especially) when giving them blunt feedback about opportunities for growth
  • Respect them as a person, not just a performer of tasks; treat them as a peer

Check in with your reports and yourself every few weeks to see how your 1-1s are going. Do you feel you’re successfully progressing through these blocks of time? If not, iterate your process as needed.

Not a manager? How to leverage the 1-1 to get what you want

1-1s are your time to express to your manager what’s on your mind, brainstorm ideas, and communicate your future goals. Use your time wisely:

  • Set aside time prior to your meeting to organize which topics you’d like to discuss and add those to the meeting agenda.
  • Feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, blocked or excited? Think about why you feel this way and outline any specific potential solutions you’d like to work through with your manager.
  • Remain open to discussing what’s really going well and where you need your manager’s support.
  • Ask for what you want in layman’s terms. Remember, no one can read your mind. Is it more responsibility? An opportunity to manage a junior team member? Discuss these things in specifics.

Long term vs. short term goals

If you find yourself unable to get out of the weeds during your 1-1, schedule a separate meeting to discuss tactical issues or status updates. Or, try to alternate meetings that cover tactical questions and long term topics.

Every few weeks, prioritize time to cover long term goals outside of your regular review systems in place to address performance. The 1-1 should focus on long term goals and ambitions. It should also ensure that nothing on a performance review comes as a surprise

Here are a few topic buckets you should cover, and some effective 1-1 questions you might ask:

Role questions:

  • What’s your pie chart of what you are working on? What do you want it to be?
  • How do you view yourself in your role?

Career reflection:

  • If you were having the best work day ever in your ideal role, what would your schedule look like?
  • Where do you get your job satisfaction from?
  • Where have you been most successful in the past?

Long term goals:

  • What are your long term goals? What skills do you need to achieve them?
  • What obstacles will you need to overcome to achieve these goals?

There are endless benefits to the continuous and honest feedback given in a 1-1 both for a manager and team members. Bringing out the best in your employees, eliminating unnecessary tension, improving workflow, pulsing your teams energy level and making your employees feel valued are just a few reasons to find the time on your calendar for your next 1-1 if you’re in a leadership role. As an individual team member, the 1-1 serves as a place to share open and honest feedback with a manager to build your dream career.

Do you have 1-1’s at your organization? What are some ways you’ve learned to leverage them? We’d love to discuss in the comments.

More Issues