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Ask HN: What do you do in your 1-on-1s with your direct reports?
409 points by ankurvjy on Oct 21, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 153 comments
Specifically in the context of engineering management, how frequently do you have 1-on-1s with your direct reports, how do you structure them, and what have you found to work and not work well?

This seems to work for me:

1. This is your time to talk about whatever is on your mind. If you want to talk about the footy over the weekend, that's fine. If you want to talk about work or issues at home or career progression, that's fine.

2. Sometimes there is not much to talk about - and that's fine too. If they do not have much to say on a particular day and I don't have much to say, it's a short meeting.

3. As said previously, try never to reschedule and never, never forget.

4. It's a really good time as a manager to practice listening. For that reason, I never have an agenda (i.e. things I want to say) at these meetings. Also, I try to contain the impulse to give advice unless they specifically ask for it.

5. I make it quite clear that as far as legally possible, I will maintain confidentiality. The only time that something may be relayed upward is if there is requirement for me to do so (e.g. an employee reporting harassment).

Great list. I agree listening is primary, but I think a manager should work to make sure particular topics get discussed. For some people it's enough just to say "what's on your mind?" But for others I find I need to be more specific.

One thing I make sure we don't talk about is status reports. A lot of people have been trained to do that in a 1:1 and I think that's a waste of time. As a manager it's my job to know what's going on; if I don't I should adjust systems so that I do. So that everybody does.

But the things I really want to dig in on are deeper issues. It's my job to make sure my people are happy at the company and are growing in their careers. So if they don't bring it up on their own I'll ask questions about emotional state and emotional reactions to situations. E.g., "How did you feel about that?" "Are you feeling sufficiently challenged?" "What have you learned this week?"

I also think it's valuable to have a list of ongoing themes and to keep returning to them. Otherwise it's easy for an issue to drop into the background. E.g., somebody has an issue with a coworker, or is feeling bored, or thinks we have too many meetings, or thinks we don't take tech debt seriously enough. People mentioning that even once is a gift: I can't fix systemic problems if I don't know about them. And even if the system is fine, I don't want my people just putting up with their jobs. I want them happy.

So it is definitely their time. But I'm also the person with more experience both in the industry and specifically doing 1:1 meetings. I'm also the person with more power to fix many problems. So if they have anything they want to talk about, I'll honor that for sure. But if they don't, I think it's my job to ask good questions.

> So if they don't bring it up on their own I'll ask questions about emotional state and emotional reactions to situations

This! All too often management thinks the "Tell me what's on your mind" covers them with the ol' "Well I asked and they didn't say anything" excuse. It absolutely does not.

As a newer hire on my team, sure I feel able to discuss deeper things with my manager. But for better or worse, that doesn't mean I always will. It's leadership's job to get the ball running with these types of deeper questions, rather than just asking "Tell me what's on your mind". Just asking for someone to tell you whatever is on your mind is much too ambiguous and needs to be narrowed in scope.

Does anyone have tips or resources on how to improve their listening skill? I know I'm a terrible listener because I'm always looking for solutions but I know that 80% of the time, they just want to be heard.

I can barely turn off my thoughts when I'm meditating, how can you give your undivided attention without any internal distractions? What do you do when the conversation feels boring or tedious?

Practice, practice, practice. I find it hard as all heck not to be in problem solving mode. That's essentially what we do in the tech industry in our jobs. Take a problem, break it down to manageable chunks and fix the them.

Do some digging around and read up on "Active Listening". The bare bones of it are just to hear what the person is saying, and reflect it back. "It sounds like you're frustrated because <paraphrase>." If you're attempting to accurately paraphrase, it will take quite some concentration on what someone is saying. The devil is in the details, and so is a lot of subtleties.

It might be worth seeing a counsellor, they're trained in, and can help you to develop, these kinds of skills.

Instead of thinking about what they're saying, study their emotional cues. Its a skill and it takes attention and practice, and distracts from thinking about solutions.

>Does anyone have tips or resources on how to improve their listening skill?

Get married?

I think it's more about "Wanting to say something and acting" rather than not listening. You want to act and provide solution because maybe you are an engineer at heart.

Try to count to 3 in your mind before saying something.

I would also invest in hobbies where there is a lot of thinking and less action.

Good: - Chess - Yoga - Anything where you need to wait/think before acting

Bad: - Quick quiz apps - Anything that require you to act quickly

Unfortunately some cultures cherish and reward "quick thinking" and action over real thinking.

I could see some jobs prioritizing quick, reasonable reactions over long-term optimal solutions, so the culture might be understandably aligned. Maybe site reliability or release eng.

Take notes. That forces you to process what they are saying instead of thinking about your response. You’ll have plenty of time to talk when they stop.

Instead of trying to come up with solutions focus on being able to repeat back what you just heard, in fact, it might be helpful to the person if you summarize what they said so they know they've been understood. Just stop there, don't offer any advice unless you really believe they're asking for it.

I keep a notebook and open a new page every time I walk into a meeting. I take down all salient points. If I have trouble putting something down, that's usually an indication I need to ask more questions.

In my 1-1s (as the subordinate) this note taking sometimes makes me nervous. It begins to feel like a therapy session. “Did I say something wrong? Was I just being weird? Is he gonna hold me to some offhand, throwaway comment I just made???”

If you’re taking notes it helps if you communicate what you’re doing with them, and what exactly you wrote down. I have adjusted my 1-1 conversation to avoid anything that might be considered a commitment or otherwise official. So that I speak very vaguely now. And often avoid issues that are related to my current role or work. In the past not doing so has bit me. Even though I’ve been told the 1-1 time is not about status updates.

In my case, I jot things down at every meeting so everyone in my team is used to it (or at least I think so).

It isn't about you providing the answer. It is about you asking questions and later providing options to help them find the answer. And often with this approach they may find a better answer than you were initially thinking.

If the server's on fire and you have a fire extinguisher, use it. Times are rarely so urgent, and in such an occasion you need to debrief and get input anyway.

I am not an expert but I think it's impossible for someone to turn off thoughts. One school of thought is to distract your mind from thoughts by focusing on breathing. Another way is to just observe the thoughts without trying to suppress it. Yet another way is to discover the source of the thought (search for "who am I" by Ramana Maharshi)

Reading works of literature, it sort of helps me to understand the people around me. Sometimes it helps to understand people and their motives, sometimes you get to be more compassionate, it depends.

I follow this too. I try to meet 1:1 biweekly with my direct reports. Here are some ideas on management that I believe will make this effective

1. Try to meet with every one of you direct reports consistently.

2. I believe you should have less than 8 direct reports. The number is not important. Its that you have the time to meet with each one on a consistent basis.

3. If you have a large team then you need to delegate managerial duties. Work with HR if you can't do it directly. At least set up team leads.

Why only biweekly?

I want my report to focus on work. I don't want them in too many meetings.

do reports, in general, want 1 on 1s? i certainly don't. They hold no value to me. They are largely constructed to inform managers as to what's going on, which is something I already know.

This is a great list. I strictly adhered to them all. I also did the following:

1. Created a Google Doc for the direct to enter an agenda ahead of time. They were not required to fill it out. Many did anyway. It helped me prepare to listen, knowing the topics.

2. Scheduled time in a meeting room. I know lots of people like to do the walking 1-on-1s. I don't. I think it's hard to have face-to-face communication when you're standing next to each other, and it's nigh impossible to take any kind of notes. That said, if my direct said: "can we just go for a walk?", I released the meeting room and we went for a walk.

3. Blocked my calendar for 15-30 minutes on either side of the meetings. This ensured I had time to move from one meeting to the next and allowed for a bit of spillover time if necessary (say the previous meeting room occupants were slow in vacating, a common occurrence).

Good advice - now we need a catchy rename to get the point across - "listening meeting", "listen:1"?

Footy. Found the Aussie :D

Or Brit

The username would suggest otherwise ;)

I second the Manager Tools podcast, it has been great for getting started with engineering management. Here's what's distilled down from a lot of their intro casts:

1. Have a 1x1 once a week with each direct for 30 min

2. If you can have your 1x1 walking (go for coffee, head outside) try and do that; conversation flows easier when it's not in a confined space like a meeting room.

3. Loosely allocate the meeting in 1/2: 15 min for them to talk about whatever they want. 15 min for you to talk about what you need to talk about (usually top->down information), and at least leave a few min at the end for career development or tactics.

4. Throw out rule #3 if they want to talk more than 15 min. Always cut your portion down to accommodate them. The point of the meeting is to build trust. Building trust means listening to your directs and getting to know them and what makes them tick. You'll always learn more by listening than instructing.

And that's basically it, that will get you a long way for now!

My only caveat on (2) is when you have coffee make time to stop and listen to your direct report and stop in a place they feel comfortable and can talk open and freely.

I had a manager once that stomped his way around a mall. Spent the whole time keeping up with him (taller) while avoiding colleagues also getting coffee. Didn't feel I could focus on what I wanted to say while walking and felt rushed. Wasn't even convinced he was focused on our activity either. Not very good and not very productive for me (manager was fine, he'd got his coffee).

I would go absolutely insane if I had to have a 1-on-1 with my manager every week. I’m sure some people love it, but it’s not for everyone.

I thought so too. Then i joined Google, where it’s mandatory. After some time I learned to see the value. Ever since i left Google i tried to have them, but managers dont seem to buy into this idea, and i miss it dearly

Why didn't you like them and what changed your mind?

completely agree. 1 on 1s in my experience (25 years with lots of managers) is they have no value for me.

How few directs does one usually have?

My last office had 30 people under one manager, and my current have 15.

I don't see how weekly 30 minutes 1-1's are feasible.

Prevailing thought in this context is that a single person cannot reasonably manage more than 10 people, and a good number is 6 or 7.

I agree with that, I have no idea how I'd keep the interests and issues and projects and goals and whatnot of 15 people in my head, let alone 30.

This. 100 times this.

Direct report here. A bunch of these say both “keep it informal” and “no set agenda”. But, there is also a lot of proposed structures, suggestions for note taking, consensus on the generic format. Many suggest discussing career growth for example. If I discuss career growth for 5 - 15 mins every week with my manager, regardless whether they are well intentioned, it ends up being counterproductive. I can’t grow my career every week. I don’t want those discussions driving my annual review, because if that is how it works the stakes are just too high on a weekly basis. Also, shocker, sometimes I don’t want to discuss my actual career goals because it’s already been signaled that they are not in line with my current role or the needs of the company. I appreciate that a manager wants to “get to know me” and “build trust”, but let’s be honest, at the end of the day the manager is an agent of the company and might have to lay me off. They might know for a short window before they can tell me, which is all you need to know. I get it. Those are the roles. That’s fine. But don’t expect me to come in on a weekly basis sharing my hopes and aspirations to someone that might be nodding their head knowing my role can never go in that direction or that I’ll be out of a job in a day or two.

"sometimes I don’t want to discuss my actual career goals because it’s already been signaled that they are not in line with my current role or the needs of the company. I appreciate that a manager wants to “get to know me” and “build trust”, but let’s be honest, at the end of the day the manager is an agent of the company"

Completely agree with you. There is always an implicit agenda -- maximize the amount of work they can get out of me for as little money as possible. If I were a consultant, would I sit down for a weekly chat with a client in the same sort of 1-on-1 format? No way. The reason we are asked to have these meetings is so that management can gain useful information from us to then use as they see fit. That's it. We should approach these meetings accordingly.

I'm sorry you're in a situation that makes you feel this way. I've had great experiences with managers that honestly do want to help me - whether that's with advice, giving me opportunities that will help me grow, or even telling me tactical things I should do for promotions (that I've gotten, so it's not just talk with no action).

Some of us don't want to be bullied by nice guys.

> let’s be honest, at the end of the day the manager is an agent of the company

Employment, like any other business transaction, should not be a zero sum game.

Sure, both sides are in it to gain. But your manager's job is to make the most of your time and help you be as productive as you can. That should align with your goals - the more productive you are, the more valuable you are to the company.

I’m sorry you are in a position that makes you feel that way. At my company (less 20 people) we’re hard not to hire people we don’t want. Ergo we want to retain the people we have hired. So one thing we’ve found effective is talking about hopes and aspirations in a effort to best align staffing requirements for growth with existing staff’s goals.

For example, we have staff that do A, B and C currently. As we grow, we know we want to add in D. So I’d usually rather have existing staff grow into D if they want to and hire someone to fill in the previous roles of the existing staff (since as they add D they can’t still do all of A, B and C if they’re also doing D).

Obviously this only works when your existing staff can grow personally at a similar rate to the company’s needs. But when possible, we try to make that happen.

For reference a short tenure for technical staff at my company is 5 years. I take that personally as a compliment.

I also work at a small company (50ish). We also attempt to only hire good fits. We don’t have enough excess “fat” to do otherwise. My manager said almost verbatim what you’ve said. We want to retain people. We want to align company and individual goals. We want people happy. We want people to grow. Lip service was paid to those ideas for a few months. Once rubber hit the road it was clear that the company needed me to do what the company needed me to do, as defined by my manager, regardless my long term goals.

My experience, in my own case at least, is that I’ve been able to grow faster than my company and team in terms of skills and skill sets. That doesn’t mean my boss is gonna adjust our tech stack and it doesn’t mean there is going to be a new role available. I’m not going anywhere unless he does. And he isn’t. So, I’m stuck under him. And so, no, I’m not going to go into our meetings and explain why he needs to grow so that he can facilitate my growth. That is career suicide.

All that is semi besides the point. The fact is, a manager is an agent of the company, and at the end of the day the company is profit and product driven, and those will never perfectly align with my goals. Managers do ask, often and explicitly, for an asymmetry of information from me under the rationale of retaining talent or personal growth, but at the end of the day it is another tool in their toolbox to manage. Manage resources. End of the day, I’m a resource that is being managed. That’s the reality.

I do fortnightly 1/1s with my team members (individually) for half an hour. The time is set but this can be in a room or a walk or over coffee. I had given them a choice of weekly or fortnightly and most chose the latter (those wanted it more frequent still get it). However my policy is that we do not wait till the 1/1 to discuss things that can be discussed sooner (especially things like feedback).

What worked for me (through experimentation and error) is I try hard to get folks to not talk about project status in the 1/1 (we have standups and planning for that). It is after all their time and unless I have direct feedback on behaviours I prefer to make it all about them. Their problems, Their goals, their dreams, their ambitions, interests and so on. After all if they are not most inspired being in my team I want to make sure I can find them work/projects/teams that they would be more aligned with (and knit that around timeframes).

At first the things that would not go well would be running out things to say. Either due to shyness or introversion or general fear of a new manager. The other side was me accepting it and moving on. While deciding when to dive deep and when not to is subtle, often zooming out on their future and then coming back to skillset often kicks off a good discussion (and some fine action items for both of us).

This is almost exactly how I do my 1/1s with my team members. Except the frequency for folks who have been in the team for more than 6 months is 3 weeks and for newer members its 2 weeks. Also, I make it a point to ask them to provide feedback for their peers - positive and constructive. I make notes and I use the 1/1s to also give regular, informal peer feedback to the team members. I ask them what's going well for the team and how we can improve the processes, the productivity etc

+1 on the getting feedback from them. Especially around team and productivity had been great in even getting to the bottom of some subtle conflict brewing around. Very nice call-out mate.

Another +1 on soliciting feedback from teammates on a regular basis. As long as the manager is impartial, doesn't take sides, respects privacy, etc this can benefit both the subordinates and team. Grievances get aired and steps can be taken immediately instead of hearing about issues in the subordinates' peer reviews at the end of the year.

As an individual contributor, I despise weekly one-on-ones. It’s yet another meeting that disrupts my day. I rarely get anything out of them and am always grateful when it is canceled or postponed for whatever reason.

It sounds like you need to talk to your boss about all the disruptions during your 1:1.

If the higher-ups wanted to listen they'd have done so long ago.

the 1 on 1 IS the disruption.

As a manager, I give my reports the choice of when to have our one on ones. Most choose times just before or after lunch or our daily standup or another standing meeting precisely because at those times you’ll already be disrupted. Maybe your manager would be amenable to scheduling a different time that’s less disruptive to you?

What a great topic of discussion for your next 1:1 :)

Talk about the frequency of your 1:1 which seem to happen too often, and about all the other disruptions you experience. Your manager will surely find a way to help with these if possible.

I wonder if they aren't valuable for you because you aren't trying to make them valuable? One-on-ones can be a pointless waste of time if the report does not bring questions and topics and concerns to discuss, even if there are plenty of those things available for discussion.

If there’s nothing to say during my one-on-one’s the meeting just ends in a minute.

That’s still a distraction if you are working on something not trivial. Useless meeting like this gets you out of the zone and cancels your mapping of the problem in the brain. You then need to go back to your computer and spend some time getting back to where you were.

If there's nothing to say in mine, I just cancel it in advance. Organization of the meeting can be done asynchronously and in advance.

Is a disruption for nothing better than a disruption with an illusion of productivity, or that maybe one person got something out of?

On the other hand though, I do think it lowers the barrier if you actually do have something to say - since you know the meeting's happening anyway and isn't something you have to request or say Yes actually I do have something to say today.

I agree. But you should go for monthly one on ones at the minimum.

Once a week for 30 mins, and I never, ever reschedule them.

I treat these meetings as untouchable because I want my direct reports to know that I value them. I don't want to reschedule and make them feel like I don't care, so I will never reschedule them.

We don't discuss their weekly work or tasks, we discuss their careers, their career path, how they can get to the next level, any problems they are encountering, etc. I dedicate this time to them and their career and their time at the company.

What could transpire within a week _outside of_ weekly work or tasks that could influence your reports' career trajectory or force them to re-evaluate it? To put this in context, I'm attending such meetings but really see them as a noblesse oblige type of ritual that serves to reinforce our rapport (we don't see each other much otherwise), but otherwise a waste of my time from my standpoint.

Agreed. I find 1:1s to be rather useless along with engineering managers in general if I may be honest, they are simply paper pushers and approve expense reports here and there. You are the one in control of your career and you have to put in work yourself to make it to the next level, the EM is there just to submit your promotion packet and act like they provide value to the company (they don't do any real "work" per say, and at the end of the week if you ask them what have they accomplished, pretty much all they can say is attended a bunch of meetings).

*maybe I am being a bit harsh, they do provide some value in that they would be trying to guide me and provide feedback about how I can make it to the next level, but usually that is spelled out in a eng career ladder, and you would know what skills you need to work on from peer feedback, not your EM since your EM does not work with you everyday nor review your code.

I think maybe consider one of the following could be true

1) You have worked with bad managers

2) You don't appreciate what a manager has to deal with. I have often felt that one of my roles as a manager is to protect the team from the board. The board waste a lot of my time while the team get to keep working. Equally the board prefer to deal with me because I have learned how to put things in their terms.

Maybe you should use your one on one to ask what they have been doing recently.

I have a good friend who is a senior engineer who is always complaining about managers, but hates dealing with other stakeholders in the business. Maybe you are under-appreciating them because you don't like what they have to do.

In terms of career progression, yes a manager can't do that for you. However a manager can recognise that you are driven and allocate work that gives you the experience they want.

I spend a lot of time doing PR for my team. The board don't really understand what they do and it is hard for them to tell who is good and who is not. I'm currently moving out of a position, and my best direct report is replacing me (in a reorganised role, doing more tech and less management). They got the job because of my advocacy, and because I allocated them work that would prepare them for the role over the past couple of years. They have been nervously learning the ropes whilst constantly commenting that, 'I remember this!'.

Not sure what are you talking about. The best moment to speak about anything is ASAP. I am not going to wait until next 1-on-1 meeting day because that's the procedure. I am not going to track the bullets of interesting topic throughout a week and wait either because I have many better ways to spend my time at office, like contributing to the project. If I have anything that needs a discussion I go to manager and talk, or I go out for a lunch with him. It works both ways. A 1-on-1, to me, is an artificial construct created so the organization can mark a goal completed "we are trying to foster a better culture and growth environment, blah blah blah." What are you talking about when there is nothing to talk about? Not because of hostility - just everything has been already discussed. Don't get me wrong here. I am on very good terms with my manager and we have not always easy but honest communication channel for few years, now. We just cancelled our 1-on-1 and I couldn't be more happy about it. None of us lost anything.

> Not sure what are you talking about. The best moment to speak about anything is ASAP. I am not going to wait until next 1-on-1 meeting day because that's the procedure.

But then all of your conversations are about operational matters.

When can you talk about careers? When should I talk to my employees about the 'boiling a frog' stuff? A steady increase in workload, the new x is causing anxiety with y. Or even that person x is concerned about person y's welfare. All huddled in our open plan office, it is hard to have those conversations. The 1 to 1 allows that.

As I said - ASAP. I come to my manager and ask "hey, can you spare N minutes for me?" If he can't, which obviously may happen, then I ask for convenient but close enough time when he's available. The form is up to me and him - we're having lunch quite often. For you a separate room might work better. Case by case, I guess. But again, it doesn't change anything I said - I am talking with him because there is a reason, so the meeting actually is meaningful, not because it's scheduled or because other companies doing it.

AS someone that recently transitioned from engineer to engineering manager, I don't feel like I'm doing less. Quite the opposite. Is the work as worthwhile? It is mandated by the company. So no real engineering would happen without it. Is the work as rewarding? Not yet and that makes it feel more like "work" than my previous job. I hope that changes as time goes on.

Do you think it's possible that reports may think this is a waste of their time?

I've seen very few peers feel this way occassionally, and it's insane to me. If you can't find a way to get value from 30m with your manager, there's something obstinate about you, not wise.

@refulgentis Can you give me examples of value you got from your manager in a 1-on-1?

I can get value from 30m with my manager if he’s not otherwise available. If I sit next to him on a daily basis, not so much.

> If you can't find a way ... there's something obstinate about you

Blaming the employee when the manager is responsible.

I have even more than 30 minutes. When there's a need. Then I go to him, speak with him, share the problem or revelation I have, he advises or take an advice, we check on it later if needed and off we go. None of my colleagues values wasting their time (we've got a discussion about it already,) so if you'd like to show us you care, you'd reduce number of meetings greatly.

I'm surprised to see lots of comments with managers meeting their direct reports for 30 minutes per week...assuming 10 reports, thats 5 hours a week... Or basically 1 hour per day just to talk about someone's career.

My manager blocks off 2 hours per week. If you have something to talk about, put a meeting on his calendar. The only obligation is the semi annual 1:1.

I talk to my manager on a daily basis so any 1:1 is really for career path, no project status, gripes about people, etc.

Of course if they want to skip their 1:1 that's up to them. I am actively telling them that I'm making 30 mins a week available for them strictly for them, but if they feel like they would rather do something else, that's perfectly fine for me.

As a subordinate, I would think once a month is more than adequate. How often do things change in your career path where you would need that much time to discuss it. Obviously there are times you may need to meet more frequently but shouldn't that be on the subordinate to schedule if they are interested in their future?

My direct report is a fairly novice developer. We are both Americans at a Japanese start-up, so the dynamic is a little different. We tend toward frequent, shorter meetings rather than infrequent, longer meetings as we've found that works better for us in this particular environment.

Every morning I take a couple of minutes to talk to him, make sure he knows where he's going and that he has the tools (technological and social) to get there.

About once a week, we have a wrap-up meeting to cover what we've accomplished, what's blocking us, and where we're going. This usually doesn't take more than 10 minutes and we'll skip it by mutual agreement if we both feel we're up to date and don't have anything in particular to talk about.

About once a month or so we have a 30-60 minute session over tea or coffee to just discuss communication at work, strategies, his morale, and how he feels he's doing in terms of happiness and making progress toward his personal goals.

Sometimes special situations come up through the course of work and we'll have impromptu sessions to talk about them as necessary.


Completely off topic, but I am looking for a job in Japan - I will be moving there tomorrow actually for family reason. Could I have your details (or could you send me an email - my email is in my HN profile.) I am a senior data scientist. Thanks in advance

I've sent you an e-mail. :)

I do weekly half-hour 1:1’s with all my direct reports. Each one is pre-scheduled for the same time every week. I almost never cancel, although I do reschedule sometimes.

The first half is for whatever they want to talk about (work status, planning, career guidance, personal stuff, anything they want). The second half is for my list: usually tactical work stuff, but I step back and ask about their overall feelings and professional goals about once per month.

It’s a useful tool for coordinating work, and it has the nice side effect of redicing interruptions because most things can wait a few days until our 1:1. But the primary reason I do them so often is to build stronger relationships. I know my people very well, and they know me. Spending so much time together builds a lot of trust, which is extremely valuable.

There's a great description of how to run a 1-on-1 in High Output Management by Andy Grove.

I like to have them every 2 weeks with a new hire, and every month thereafter. Sometimes, if something comes up midweek that feels like it needs to be addressed, I'll schedule one before that.


Location: take a walk or go to a non-work but private space

Ask questions about their general feelings: - How are you doing? - How are things in the office? With co-workers? - Are you enjoying your work? What could make it better?

Ask them for feedback: - Is there anything that's been on your mind? Any issues either with me or other staff? - Is there something that we could be doing better in their eyes? What would they change?

Do they have a career goal they are progressing towards? - What position would you like to be in 1-2 years? - What can I do to help you get there? - How do you feel your recent projects have helped in that regard?

Only after I exhaust them and their feelings will I bring up feedback I have for them -- again, with exceptions, if the 1-on-1 was called to handle a specific issue, that will be addressed pretty fast.

I am loathe to take advice from Andy Grove, only because I feel that employment rules of engagement have changed drastically when he was a manager.

In the last 5 years, I've seen the minimum time in Silicon Valley to stay at a job drop precipitously from 2 years (the norm that I'm used to going back 20 years) down to 1 year. I see a lot of jumping around, especially at the more junior end of the spectrum, where total comp can jump by 30-50k in the first 3-5 years of experience.

And young people know this, because everyone shares their salaries and total comp openly. This is a big change from my generation. So they're aggressively leaving after the first year, moving a couple of times and earning a lot more than they would have if they simply stayed at their job for 2-4 years.

One thing young people want is to be mentored aggressively, and for them to get their careers on track immediately. I try to cater to this by meeting with them once a week, to show them that I actually do care about their career path, and also selfishly, in hopes that they don't want to leave within a year and I'm left trying to fill another headcount. If I left the 1:1 to once a month, then I would only see them less than half a dozen times before they've decided they're going to leave.

But if they know that I'm working with them to further their experience, that they're not stuck in a rut and if they stay with me, that they can trust me and they won't get screwed doing all the boring grunt work, then I have a hope they will stay 2+ years with me before they leave.

It is not clear though that the OP is from SV, or indeed what % of people reading this are from SV.

I am not, and although I have hopped a few jobs recently (not due to chasing salary) and it has been 'forgiven' by the market, the usual is still >2yr where I am based.

This is my template for 1-on-1s:

- Before the meeting, review your notes from the last one and get into the mindset of listening.

- No formal agenda. Just notes of what both you don't want to forget to talk about during the one-on-one.

- A meeting should take around 30 minutes but allow for an extra 15 minutes if necessary.

- In the first half of the meeting, you should only listen. In the second half explore the mentioned topics and introduce topics of your own.

- Write notes throughout the meeting and conclude it with mutual commitments as next steps.

Shameless plug: Based on it i built note-taking web app as a side-project: https://www.oneonemeeting.com

I'm not a manager, I'm a victim of 1:1s. 1 on 1 are a waste of time. Maybe ask your reports if they want them at all. If you have information for them you can always just email them.

This is the sentiment I see a lot and fits my experience as well. At best 1v1 are a good outlet for managers to look busy and feel important, at worst they are a trap.

Anything you say can and will be used against you.

Various FAANG companies are known for 1-on-1 where every employee is regularly praised and then told to be more productive.

As a direct report who sits near his manager I agree that weekly 1:1 is a waste of time. My manager took a middle road.

He has two hours scheduled per week for a team of 15. He reserves those for 1:1. Anyone is free to put a 1:1 slot on his calendar if you have something to discuss. Otherwise you go about your week.

I've seen, head and read quite a bit about engineering 1-1s.

After doing engineering management for a decade and trying many ideas, I ended up with the following.

Have weekly 1 hour 1-1s if you have 5 direct reports or less.

Have weekly 30 minute 1-1s if you have between 5 and 10 direct reports.

If you have more than 10 direct reports, hopefully there is some plan. With 10 direct reports, many best practices do not apply.

My primary rule for 1-1s is not to waste time. I do not walk for 1-1s, because it is a waste of time. I do not cut 1-1s short when my direct reports have nothing to talk about, because it is a waste of time. I thoroughly prepare for 1-1s.

I have a shared document with every direct report where I write a summary of the 1-1s. My direct reports can add anything they want at any time (e.g. include topics they want to cover in the next 1-1 so that I can prepare ahead of time).

I start with a quick review of the previous 1-1 and close the loop on all outstanding topics from the previous 1-1.

Next, I give my direct reports an opportunity to raise any topics they want to discuss. I listen to what they have to say. I give answers when I have them. When I do not have answers I write down the question and try to find answers before the next 1-1.

Small-talk topics are fine and sometimes necessary. As my relationships with direct reports evolve, so do 1-1s. The more mature the relationship, the more efficient the 1-1. I don't expect to start at peak efficiency, but I'd like to see forward progress with every 1-1. The purpose of my 1-1 is to develop professional relationships with my direct reports (aka alignment), mentor my direct reports, learn and improve myself.

I try to leave enough time for myself to talk about my topics. I expect my direct reports to give me straight answers when they have them. When my direct reports do not have answers, I ask them to follow up with me in writing (my personal preference - I am more effective reading). Usually, for my topics I focus on communication, career development, culture and alignment.

Lastly, I recite the list of topics we covered.

In my first 1-1 with a new direct report I explain my take on 1-1 meeting structure and my expectations.

As an individual contributor, I deeply appreciate having 1:1s with an engineer who has taken on a career-mentoring role. It is useful to get feedback and especially to help me formulate plans for how to grow as an engineer.

When I start out with a new manager, I prefer going for a walk around the neighborhood. Now that I have built trust and gotten a sense for how he thinks about management, I'm shifting to setting an agenda several days in advance so that he can think about what advice to give or questions to ask to help me clarify my thinking and debug my approaches to problems.

I follow the check-in model from Adobe [1]. It isn’t a hard set of requirements, but is more of a set of topics that help guide the conversation. It’s especially helpful as a starting point for people new to management, like myself.

A check-in meeting is made up of three parts: (1) setting expectations, (2) providing feedback, (3) having a development conversation.

Status reports are explicitly not a part of this conversation. Those are easy to talk about, but have little value for your employee, and if you’re already doing daily stand-ups, they have little value for you too.

The first two topics are fairly self-explanatory, yet take time to learn to do well. The expectations must be clear, finite and actionable. Much has been written about the art and science of giving good feedback. I use a model where we talk about the Specific thing that happened, followed by Asking questions to understand their perspective, talking about the Impact of their actions on themselves and the people they have affected, and finally talking about what I expect them to Do now or in the future. (aka SAID)

The development conversation is the time for you to listen. This is where you learn about the professional skills they are working on growing (whether it’s public speaking, a particular career path or, say, a machine learning course, to name a few) and finding ways to help and facilitate those. If done right, you learn a lot about the person, their goals, aspirations, and will be in a better position to make a positive meaningful impact on their life.

The check-in is most effective if it’s guided by the employee. This encourages people to come with topics they care about and gives them the ability to focus more time on a particular aspect of the meeting which may be more important at that time.

1. https://www.adobe.com/check-in.html

We don't do any kind of regular 1-on-1 meetings; I think we did a few years and years ago when it was first cargo culted, but it's just not terribly useful. I work for a small company, and I've been here seven years - my boss/owner and I know each other well, and some kind of scheduled interaction like that is not really necessary. If we want to talk about non-work stuff or work stuff, there's more than enough time shooting the shit in the breakroom waiting for the Keurig to produce an adequate amount of coffee, or when we get pizza once a week in the conference room, or just at the tail end of a end-of-day meeting.

My fiance has worked at a few bigger places that subscribe to this kind of "best-practices" management style, and it's just something that seems so stilted and generally dreaded. She's very happy when her job takes her on the road visiting customers and she gets to avoid them.

A lot of people aren’t comfortable bringing up bigger picture issues - especially those around performance, career, or concerns about the company or team - casually. Having a dedicated time to talk about things like this on a regular basis helps prevent them from falling through the cracks. They’re also an important time for relationship building, especially with the introverts and heads-down types who are less likely to spend time chatting around the water cooler.

I once had a manager that would walk through the office and call people in for 1:1s in such a way that I felt like I was at a doctor’s office. The meeting itself was almost the same - you’d say your bit and then he’d have a list of things he wanted to cover. I called him out on this and though initially a bit shocked, did improve a bit. As s manager, even though you are coming from a position of “authority,” don’t treat your people like cattle.

My manager does 1-1s back to back in 30 min blocks and as each engineer comes back they call the next person to go up. I don't get the cattle feeling but is it unusual or bad practice to do them back to back?

Also what would you think if the manager was late for the set block of 1-1s by 40 mins?

Non specific to engineering the Manager Tools Podcast is a great resource. https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/one-on-ones-part-1-updat..., they say 30 min once per week is proven to be most effective

My manager does it mostly like this:

Scheduled every two weeks, but we're both quite busy, so we often let it slide unless one of us has something that we've been wanting to talk about, but we're both available at that time if either of us does. We're both easygoing with rescheduling or canceling.

First chunk is the "how's it going" bit to gauge general mood. Then a bit of feedback (he's been hearing good things about me, or maybe that I've been too quiet lately and need to communicate more, etc.) Then a prompt for me to talk about whatever. Finally, sometimes there might be a bit where I bring up scheduling vacation or he brings up a side task/project that he wants to ask me to work on.

I usually ask about big-picture and long-term stuff - where we're going as a company, how some big initiative that I haven't heard about recently is going, how it's going to affect our plans that we're behind schedule on some things after having had to re-prioritize others to the front, etc.

My former managers never did 1-on-1s, so I'm still not really sure what sorts of things I'm supposed to talk/ask about. I'm learning a bit from this thread. Maybe useful to use one of the meetings to hash that out - what do you want to get from it, what you want them to get from it, and vice-versa.

I just this morning read this interview with Lindsay Holmwood about how he does 1-on-1s, and it's a master class: https://soapboxhq.com/blog/meetings/how-envato-does-remote-o...

I've never had him as a manager, but I really wish I had.

I found these podcasts on 1-1s interesting https://www.manager-tools.com/manager-tools-basics

Very much agree with this. A lot of what is said may seem obvious but it’s worth the listen.

I manage about 110 people at fortune 30. 50-50 mix of FTe and contractors.

However I make it a point to walk around and know almost everyone at some what personal level.

With my leaders I make a point to take them out for lunch once a week on my dime and thats my 1 on 1. For a skip level I take random person out for lunch once a week as well.

For across organizations that I aceess to, I also take their leaders out for lunch once a month or so. Or may just have a short convo as 1 on 1.

Doing one on one in formal setting does not create a personal bond.

Today I have a great relations with many of them.

I try not stop them if they want to give me project status to ensure I understand if there is some personal issue going from or with someone which they want to bring it up. Example is other leaders or architects or others are pushing back on anything.

Experience can probably tell you if they just want to give status update and then I would just stop them gently and say hey good job let’s talk about you.

how many lunches do you eat in a work week? that sounds like a lot more than 5 1-on-1s each week

Weekly, unless if the report asks for less.

The actual structure of the 1x1 varies on the personality and the state of my relationship with the report. Some engineers are good at talking about how they feel and how things are going, some need some prompting. Sometimes there can be a lot of really uncomfortable silence, which is hard to get used to.

I’ve found that the one real rule is to not let one side or another talk 100% of the time. Plenty of people will use constant chatter as a way to avoid talking about important matters at hand. Sometimes this takes the form of random banter and general ADD things (guilty), but some people will fill the time with a status report to avoid talking about how they’re unhappy with how things are going. If one party tries to run their mouth the entire time, chances are somethings up.

This includes if you, the manager, is the one doing all the talking.

Not a manager, but I meet with my engineering manager once a week.

We set the ground rules early on that we'd avoid the two extremes of the topic spectrum: project status updates and venting about issues that neither of us can take action on to address.

I'm given free reign to choose a topic and drive the meeting. Unless there's some pressing matter, I fallback to reviewing the work I did the past week and how I feel it helps (or doesn't) my career goals.

I try to give good examples of gaps I'd like to address so he can look for such opportunities in future projects, conferences, or in-house training.

My goal is that my manager will have a good understanding of the type of specific tasks I like to do and/or that will better help my future.

From the IC POV:

1) Somewhere between once a month and once a quarter seems about right frequency-wise. Once a week would be way overkill.

2) I want to come out of the meeting with a good sense of how I’m doing. Remember neither being fired nor being promoted (or getting a big bonus etc.) should come as a surprise. If it does, that’s a management failure.

3) This is also a good time to give me context on wider departmental priorities or changes that are in motion which I might not know about.

4) It’s probably a good idea (for your benefit, not mine) to use this opportunity to sound me out for any issues and figure out if I’m unhappy. Preferably in a subtle and comfortable way, but straight out asking probably works okay too.

Agree with all the points except for the first. I find biweekly 1:1s to be the perfect frequency.

My manager is very experienced and has great insight, and as an IC this time is very valuable to me. But agree weekly is a little overkill

Had me a little confused there for a second. I’m used to semi to mean that, not bi.

I could see every two weeks working in other circumstances than the ones I happened to have found myself in. Maybe even weekly if I worked remotely or something like that.

I'm not actively a manager at this point in time, given I'm only 1 of 3 in a still young startup. However, I managed teams for years prior, with upwards of 25 direct & indirect reports when I was a director.

Frequency was 45 minutes every two weeks, but I'm receptive to the idea this should be weekly or monthly, depending on your team structure. Always find the cadence that helps you accomplish the goals of your 1:1s as a manager (so be flexible!).

I always walked during my 1:1s. When I managed people remote, we'd talk on the phone while I'd walk around. I find I actively listen far better when I'm moving. Obviously this comes down to preference, and I always deferred my preferences to that of my report. If they wanted to sit in an office or do a video call, we would do that.

Content varied. I strongly discourage pure status updates, but I'm not dogmatic about not talking about day-to-day work during these meetings. Utilizing the context of WHAT they are doing to discuss HOW they can improve is very useful, so you can still leverage "status-update" style conversations towards the improvement of your report.

Genuinely try to build an understanding of the human being you're having a 1:1 with. What makes them tick? What are their passions? How do they like to work? Who do they like to work with? What makes them feel insecure? Beyond just connecting with them as a human being, all of this information can help you to anticipate their needs and be proactive, rather than reactive.

Don't allow the meetings to be cut short (this is a general rule of thumb I have for team meetings & 1:1s). By making it clear that we were ALWAYS going to use the 45 minutes, I found my colleagues always came more well prepared with their own topics. If you allow it to cut short, people who are more introverted, or find 1:1s challenging, may use silence as a way to cut it short.

If you're a manager looking to groom a first time manager, have them run 1:1s with their peers. Make it clear to their colleagues that this person is interested in becoming a manager, and is looking to practice this skill. It gives them some time to hone this skill in a low-risk situation, and I've found everyone to be willing to be a team-player with this sort of setup.

Most managers I know take notes. I think the general rule is, be an active listener. Do whatever you need to do to retain all the information you need to retain.

Honestly, there's way more to 1:1s than I could write in a single HN post. Lots of info all around in these comments. No one size fits all, so seek to find the size that works for you and your team!

I think generally everyone's giving good advice.

One thing I haven't seen mentioned is having a kind of script or checklist for the direct report to be able to reflect and prepare for the meeting. E.g.,

- What have you accomplished since we spoke last?

- What are you learning?

- What are your biggest challenges? Is there anything you're avoiding? Anything demotivating?

- Is there anything you'd like feedback on?

It's NOT a script for the meeting. It's just to prepare.

Sometimes it's worth not having a one-on-one and that's fine, but when you don't come with anything to talk about and you end up shooting the breeze, it can sometimes feel like a waste of time.

We use 15five for pre 1:1 input / status updates. It pretty much asks employees the questions you are talking about. I reviews these before our 1:1 so we don’t need to talk status and I can jump right into the blockers and questions. The remaining time we talk about growth, vision, set improvement, philosophies, etc.

We are trying out https://dawfin.com, which has a pretty nifty 1:1 management feature. Similar to 15Five, managers can create 1:1s, reportees can review and pre-answer prior to meeting, manager and reportee can go through 1:1 and see previous 1:1s notes. They put some quantitative type questions in there as well - hopefully they will put those on histograms in the near future so we can get some over-time perspectives. Overall, tools like these help streamline meetings and provides historical records in case I need to go back and look at older meetings.

Since it sounds like you might be a new tech manager, you should sign up for the Rands in Repose Leadership Slack channel [1]. There's a ton of sub-groups, with 1-on-1s being one of them with tons of great advice. There's channels for every other sub-domain of technical leadership you can think of, like interviewing, compensation, performance management, culture, etc..

[1] http://randsinrepose.com/welcome-to-rands-leadership-slack/

Our team-leads have 1:1s every 6 months with their team-members. Every team-lead has 3 to 8 people they 'manage', although managing in this case means keeping them informed and supporting their professional development. The 1:1 is mostly about ways to improve and setting goals in personal development (what to learn next, attending a rhetorics-seminar etc.) and defining the necessary steps to become senior/principal/etc. Also we elect our team-leads once a year. I'm surprised to see so many companies where weekly is the norm.

6-monthly is nowhere near enough to build the sort of trusting relationship that 1-1s are so good for. If you don't know the names of your directs' (or manager's) spouse and kids then your relationship isn't good enough to trust the other with priorities at crunch time.

I whole-heartedly agree that 6-monthly is no where near enough.

>If you don't know the names of your directs' (or manager's) spouse and kids then your relationship isn't good enough to trust the other with priorities at crunch time.

That's a bit far. You can have a great professional relationship with another person where there's both skill growth and career development without getting into their personal life.

I don't ask direct reports that much about their personal life beyond asking about weekend plans. Through that, I sometimes learn of their families and spouses through information they volunteer, but it feels invasive to go fishing for it otherwise.

I've also reported to people that have been great to work with, been fully invested in my goals, yet didn't know much about my personal life, because it's none of their business.

Through that, I've still felt a great deal of trust that they can deal with the aforementioned priorities.

Agree completely about it being invasive to ask. My point is that if my directs trust me with (volunteered) info about their most treasured non-work priorities, then they'll be more likely to trust me when I need them to reprioritize. I think we agree with each other; my point is descriptive rather than prescriptive.

Put another way: If I clearly don't care about their families, then I clearly don't care about their families.

I'm surprised to see most comments mentioning weekly 1:1s. In my experience I've found that every other week is plenty. Do your direct reports really find something to talk about every week?

Yes. Because the scope is so broad and the purpose is investing in our relationship, my directs often have so much to talk about that we have topics still untouched at the end of 30 minutes. This is universal across my whole team: extroverts and introverts, junior and senior.

Sometimes they don’t have much to talk about. Then I’ll give extra feedback or talk strategy. Less than 5% of my 1:1’s end early.

It wasn’t always like this. We had to build trust and get in the habit of talking. Some new people think it’s weird for a month or two but I’ve never had anyone say it was a waste of time after that.

Perhaps. Or, here's a counterpoint. After a month or two they all learned that they should humor your weekly make-work for them by spending extra time to "come prepared" and "fill the meeting".

i don't know your reports, of course, so could be wrong. But i'm guessing your reports, aren't all that interested with a relationship with you. They are obligated to do some amount of kissing up, are spending the time wondering what amount is enough.

Lower level manager here for 20+ years, doing both with direct reports and my managers: - with new hires, once a week. With experienced people, we align the frequency based on their interests and needs, but at least once a month - agenda: by default the agenda is theirs. They put anything they want to discuss there and I have just a couple of small items.

My items are: 1. review of past period, work plan for the next few months with a focus on the period till our next discussion 2. formal feedback on what is going well and what not (informal feedback every time is needed or asked for) 3. every quarter only: career plans, training plans

It usually works, or at least it worked in this format for the past 10 years, never had any complaints, always had excellent relations with direct reports (this is what I believe and this is what they said, I cannot be 100% sure). I am in managerial positions for more than 20 years, in the first 10 I would rate myself as a poor manager.In the past 10 years all my direct reports were managers themselves and I treated them as such.

What did not work: 1. Focus on projects instead of the person. Project meetings, even with 2 people in the room, are not a 1 to 1 and not a replacement 2. Be very formal. I learned that by having 2 direct managers doing that, so I promised myself not to do with my team. 3. Focus on anything else than that person. The meeting is for that person, not for the manager. 4. Be political and evasive. It works for some people, but they will never be trusted by their teams, especially if there are lower lever managers in the team. I was always considered to be abrasive, it is a way to say "very direct and too honest". My team seems to like that, the others are not my problem.

We have a very talk-about-what-you-need-to structured 1-on-1, where the managing party does every now and then try to ask about work specific ideas and feelings, but mostly it's a conversation that can be about anything, and can last pretty much any duration.

My conversations are about 70-30 regarding work-nonwork topics, often last between 45 minutes and 90 minutes (but we usually schedule about 60), and for some people is more about personal development and conversational experiments than direct work issues. This is because work 'issues' are almost always handled on-demand, and don't require scheduled meetings as we see them as high priority for the people experiencing the issue(s).

The result so far (pas 1.5 year) has been that team clusters (we cluster about 4 scrum teams for a total of 24 people) work well on a personal and social level which solves the politics and technical communication as a side effect, which works much much better than the other way around (trying to fix social/political issues with technical communication). Out of every 30 people we have about 4 that can't seem to integrate very well, even after a year of trying from both sides, at which point we find a different structure, team or cluster of working. If that doesn't work, the person(s) in question usually aren't comfortable in their position anyway and can get help finding work elsewhere, or try to define a position that suits their needs more while still providing the value we expect contractually (but you get much more technical and contractual at that point which never really works out well).

TL;DR: 1-on-1 talks work best when they are an additional contact point and not the only time you get to review and solve things in work or life.

I schedule mine for a weekly 45 minutes which effectively blocks out an hour in both of our calendars. An hour is too intimidating though. If there isn't much to talk about that week we'll end at 30 minutes which is fine, but sometimes we'll need the full hour.

I try to do a walking 1:1 around the neighbourhood or go to a nearby cafe, never in a meeting room. The temptation to have laptops and Slack is too great. Actually my secret weapon for 1:1s was to get an analogue watch so I can keep track of time without getting out my phone and seeing a notification and pulling myself mentally out of the 1:1. I do keep an Evernote checklist for each person so if I think of something during the week that I need to discuss I'll add it there, and if they assign me something during the 1:1 I can quickly jot it down.

Most engineers' initial instincts towards 1:1s is to use them as status reports and tell me about all the great things they've done over the past week but I try and stop that habit from meeting one. I have other means of getting that info and I'd much rather get them to talk about the future than the past.

If you are nervous about formal 1 to 1s here are some tips.

1) Car journeys are wonderful ways to find out about someone. If you have to visit another site to remodulate the wajamacallit, take someone with you. Share the driving btw, stop for a coffee if it is a long way. "Seriously, you have never been to the warehouse [or whatever], I'm going on Tuesday, come along"

2) Those mysterious times when the office, or even the corner of the office is almost deserted and one person (or two) is left there, go and sit next to them, tell them your head is fried from x meeting and you need a break from spreadsheets... then "so, how are things with you". People can be less defensive at their desks (as long as it doesn't look like you just pounced on them). Lots of times someone has replied, "actually I have been meaning to talk to you, but you have been so busy I didn't want to waste your time!". Do not do this at the end of days when they are trying to go home! This happens here on Friday afternoons a fair bit, where people have booked an afternoon off, and the phones have gone quiet.

As mentioned already by a lot of people in other comments:

1) It's about them, not me. No agenda. If there is nothing to say or discuss, fine everybidy gained 30 minutes.

2) Make it quality time, if you have to many directs reduce frequency to bi-weekly.

3) Keep it confidential.

For me, scheduled 1-on-1s served as a reminder to talk at least once per week (or every two weeks) with people. I tried to have multiple conversations any how as often as possible. But at least once.

I also realized that I was horrible in the begining with keeping them, I simply rescheduled too often. So my message to my directs was "force me to stick to them, if one had to be cancelled force mw to get one by end of the week".

Sometimes they became project / work related discussions, sometimes general ranting (also necessary sometimes), sometimes personal and sometimes we were done within less than a minute.

Ehat I aslo tried to do was to be open about myself, always a little bit more than my dorects. Trust is important, and for me trusting my directs first (being open about myself goes a long way) helped a lot in gaining that trust. Doesn't mean I couldn't be a no-no-sense guy when needed.

I probably suck as a manager because I have it much less often. I have about 15 direct reports and there is no chance at all I can spend time to meet each one on one biweekly or similar. However I am quite present and interact daily with all of them so I have got their trust I think.

You don't suck. You are doing good by them by staying out of the way. Most people are not children and don't need scheduled pampering after initially. There are other ways of making oneself available which is all that is needed. The other people here who have endless meetings are doing nothing but looking out for themselves (see example where they don't want their reports to leave, therefore must keep tabs on their feelings for themselves). Can't blame them but let's also not kid ourselves that that is being a "good manager" for reports.

If your team is functioning well, there's no need to change. You can do what my manager does...who also has 15 direct reports and largely tries to get out of our way. Block off two hours per week. One hour per day. Anyone on your team can schedule a 1:1. Most weeks, probably on one will talk to you. But if someone has something to discuss, they can just place an invite on your calendar.

First, I would ask: why do you think you need a formal 1-1 with your direct reports?

I've got a pretty specific set of things I cover at the start and at the end of the process, but as you'll see the rest of the type (typically 30m, weekly) is devoted to whatever they want to talk about. And if that is nothing, we adjourn.

The steps:

0. 5m of catch up, ask about any ongoing personal stuff, talk about hobbies, whatever. Be a human for the start of it. I cannot overstress how important this is. Talks like this are your window into your team-mates personality and what kind of incentives they respond to. Similarly, you have to expose your opinions and motivations to your teammates here so they understand how to respond. Managers absolutely need to lead the way and be more transparent here. I usually offer one of my many cute stories about my 4 year old daughter and her ongoing absurd antics, or talk about upcoming pet rescue work, or ongoing tech projects I take on the side. I listen more than I talk, when I can.

1. If there are HR concerns raised or to be raised, I start with those. These include things like inter-personal interactions, performance, etc. I'm blessed with teams that seldom have these issues, but when new team members join you can use this time to help establish team norms.

2. I make sure to answer any HR or complaint questions they have. This is also where I ask about career advancement goals and how they feel about progress. This may take the full amount of time.

3. I try to summarize how their progress so far is matching the career goals we set at the start of the evaluation period, and make suggestions if I have any.

4. We then carry over to the remaining time discussing any sort of directly work-related things if they want help or advice with that.

5. If the employee wants to talk about work, we can fill the remainder of the time talking about personal things. For example, the other day a friend of mine offered to look at a magic deck I put together as I got back into the hobby.

6. I always end it with a phrase pretty much verbatim, "As always, if you come up with other questions you need answered or if there's anything you feel uncomfortable talking out loud about, please email or slack me. You can also email or slack my manager, their email is blah@blah.com."

I'm not sure if this sounds preachy, but I think you'll have great answers from reading 'High Output Management' by Andy Grove.

- Have an agenda in mind. If there were older 1-on-1's use them as a direction to set an agenda. A hazy 1-on-1 is not much different from having a drinks in a bar

- Have the reportee come prepared with his / her concerns. If they can be shared ahead of time, that will be great

- Keep aside a good 45 mins to 1 hour for this. You need to listen a lot

- Keep 1 on 1's strictly professional - focused on the productivity of the reportee

I had a conversation with a career coach recently and he said when he had direct reports, he always asked one or more of the following questions:


What is something you did you were proud of?

What is something that challenged you?

What are you most nervous/challenged by in the coming week?

How are you going to approach these challenges?

What can I do to help you overcome the challenges?


Of course, the report should drive the agenda, but having these in your back pocket can help with one to ones that are overly tactical ("can you help me with this problem I was working on just before we started talking").

I have 1-on-1s with my supervisor scheduled for once every two weeks; we miss some of those so I'd say on average it's once every 3. I realize this is unusual, but we have good slack communication-dynamics, we both hate meetings and we both write quickly.

A data engineer friend at a platform for small stores sees her manager twice a week in half hour increments.

Perhaps relevant: https://www.oreilly.com/library/view/the-secrets-behind/9781... . Free download if you're registered with O'Reilly.

1:1 are opportunities to share ideas, concerns, mentoring, etc.

The format is important: keep it relevant, respectful, constructive, honest and confidential.

That means: no gossip, no rumors, no ranting, no empty promises, no disclosure of information from other 1:1s. Few minutes of casual talk is fine, but cannot use up all the time.

Weekly, I let them set the agenda (but add to it if I have something specific to cover) and also let them cancel it if they have nothing to check in on (but I never cancel!). At least once a quarter, talk about goals/progress/feedback so they know if they are on track for review time.

We are using https://www.15five.com/ is a tool that helps on 1to1. We write beforehand what we want to talk about and It is something that helps to have the meeting preworked and no make a unplanned meeting.

Listen, that's the number one thing. The second is be honest about whether or not you're willing to take action on a certain action. The third is follow through 100% everything you promise. In a way, it's the same principles that make good parents.

They kept it no set agenda. My manager tried to tell me we should fight management.

I left.

Either (he|she) wanted me to leave or that place is in the middle of a fight I don't want to be apart of.

Stay on topic of technology please.

Lots of great advice here. One thing that I also do is give a chance for the employee to review me and what I can do to better serve them and make them effective.

Ask them to write down the topics they want to discuss beforehand. Try to structure the meeting a bit so you don't waste time on pointless discussions.

I do not have one on one as they are of no use. I believe in informal communication and trust.

What would you think of lining up your 1-1s back to back on a single day?

I work to help build up their self-confidence.

I'm a senior director and most of my reports are middle managers, but hopefully some of this will still be relevant or useful, i meet with my direct reports quite often, like sometimes multiple times a day, but these aren't 1x1's, they're project related, i'm typically trying to get a pulse on the team and projects. For actual 1x1's, i try to schedule once a month, i have 7 direct reports, each 1x1 is scheduled for 30m, if there are a lot of topics, we can extend if time permits, or schedule a follow up. Most of the folks have been with me for a long time (6+ years) so the trust level is quite high, that way we cut straight through the crap and speak candidly. My direct reports typically have a list of topics prepared, they don't share these topics with me in advance, which i think is beneficial because then i'm more so in listening mode, topics range from people, career development, to work politics, etc. I try hard not to prepare responses in my head while they're talking. i think for most of my managers, career path is pretty evident, they want to manage more people, larger orgs, and more responsibility, i have gone through career planning with them at some point, so we're talking about specific goals that we've outlined together, and their progress along those lines. I rarely get status updates on projects. Typically discussions are more exploratory, for example, I don't like direct reports bringing problems to me unless they have a set of possible solutions with pros/cons well articulated, my job is not to solve their problems, my job is to prepare them so that they can resolve their own problems.

My skip level 1x1's i try to schedule a 1-2 per week, i have over 80 people, so this rate gets me through most of the team by the end of the year. It's good to get a pulse on the team through this manner instead of just hearing it from the managers, and it lets you get to know the people in your organization more intimately, i'm sure at some point this doesn't scale, but i'd like to keep it up, maybe as the org grows larger to sample folks instead of trying to get to know everyone. I'm in learning mode mostly here, trying to figure out what makes them tick, what's frustrating them, i also try to recognize their work if applicable and get a good grasp of their potential. Sometimes i'll get into their project details, because a) it helps to relax them to talk about technical things b) it helps me to gauge their potential and then i get a better sense of how to coach their careers. Again, listening is key here. Skip levels are also 30m. Recognition for their work is important, great to hear from your manager, but also great to hear from your manager's manager. Typically the skip level engineers don't have a list of topics, so it's more me getting to know the individual better i typically ask about their background, what they're working on, i like digging into the technical details, whiteboarding is wonderful. In terms of career discussions, i most likely don't have all the specifics about their skill set, so for that, i expect the managers to sort through. But obviously if they have career questions, i'm happy to give them my perspective.

don't do 1-on-1's unless there is an acute problem. I do however, walk and talk a lot i.e. keep on top of things.

way way better.

most of the time, 1-on-1 is personal issue (death, scheduling conflict, injury), or personality-clash.

not a big fan of endless meetings. much prefer management, to be out and about (checking on the state of things, resolving problems).

I don't normally favor firing people (unless there is something seriously wrong with their behavior). There is always a way to work things out.

A light touch, at the right time, goes way further than "constant meetings". Also being able to work to accommodate people (remembering them as people, first and foremost).

Please don’t take away from this that you shouldn’t do 1-on-1s, because the parent post doesn’t.

If you’re on top of your game, this is totally a valid way to do it.

...but I’ve worked with people who use ‘light touch’ as an excuse for ‘don’t want to do people things, so I’ll just get on with my work’.

That’s a failure at everything you’re supposed to be doing.

The take away here is talk to people. ...how you do that, though, can vary and still be successful.

I would say, suit it to the person you're managing.

me I just trained my reports to use their judgement where appropriate, and bring things to my attention when it looked like it was going to be a problem that needed to be addressed long-term (and was above their paygrade/resources).

for exceptional workers (blessed with danger sense, good judgement, aptitude), they had full autonomy (fill me in on your touch points but otherwise, handle your business).

you could think of it as an "evented" style of management. with direct monitoring as the core. I've always been a fan of go and see; relative to wait and read report.

to be frank, when it was just about the work, things went swimmingly. I made sure the right people had the right styles of work (worked to their strengths) and never assigned work to someone who wasn't capable of it. most importantly, I always took into account a persons limitations (physical, social, mental, personal).

day-to-day stuff they manage their own time.

... plus a 5 minute discuss/debrief on long-running projects works well with capable workers.

same with the general group dynamics (unless there is an objective problem, I let them run their own thing). and yes, that meant sometimes they had disagreements; but as long as they were adult about it, they usually sorted it out on their own.


same way I run my direct reports up the chain to my bosses, btw.

I tend to alter the corporate culture under my "umbrella" of responsibility.

"Talking a lot" = distracting a lot.

Only interrupt developers if it is urgent. For a developer, resuming a task after an interruption can take time and effort.

Using an issue trackers and building discipline around keeping it updated is preferable to polling people for updates constantly.

"How is this task going?" -> go to the ticket for that task in your issue tracker and read the status field.

If you feel like "talking a lot", don't do it in the areas where developers do their work. It is distracting for developers.

Status fields aren’t much help when you’re 8 days in on “in progress” for a ticket that was originally estimated to take 2. Often that’s exactly when you need to have a conversation. Scope is creeping; or the engineer is taking a poor approach and needs to talk it through with someone; or there’s some tech debt that warrants investing in refactoring; or the engineer just plain misunderstood the goals. And they’re almost certainly demoralized by now and need encouragement or help seeing a way out of the swamp.

I'm a developer and completely disagree with your advice.

a status field, does not a person or a persons work effort make ;)

...and if my workers were under the gun, they understood I was there strictly to offer assistance. shit sometimes I pull up a chair and code right next to them (now fangled as "pair programming"). sometimes people need a little help.


true story, I had a dick client-side manager, whose project was about 2 years overdue, getting raked by the consulting company I worked for (body shop). they put me on the project, I tuned that shit up. johnny on the spot, and six steps ahead of the project/clientside managers.

... about two months in, I'm 20 minutes from closing out the entire project (I took some dev shortcuts to speed shit up - I was always a "high velocity" developer), I'm undoing the hacks (finalizing) to turn in the project, when the clientside manager decides he's going to come in to "motivate" me. if you are a developer, whose ever worked with a cunt of a manager who doesn't know tech/their ass from their elbow.... you know what that means.

... literally minutes away from closing out his entire project, and I quit the project (then got fired from the company).

took'em a month to close it out after I left. if the work had been less quality, it would have taken them six months. ;)

Now if he'ld shut the fuck up and let me handle my business, would have taken exactly 10 more minutes. and this was after I saved his ass on the project, and saved both of their asses with a direct product demo (pieced one together in under 4 minutes with 10 minutes notice) with the client-side ceo.


I know who can get shit done, and who is having problems. because I know, whats going on in the projects/devs. and that comes from talking to people. not looking at status fields.

if you learn nothing else, go and see. codebase ain't always the codebase/trouble-ticket. its the people writing it.

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