Managers know that 1-1 meetings are powerful and crucial to their team’s success. However, it often falls by the wayside because it might seem time-consuming and anxiety-inducing. What do you exactly do in a 1-1 meeting, and how often should you do it?
To maximize the power of 1-1 meetings, let’s discuss what it is, why it’s essential, and how you should structure your session.
A 1-1 is a dedicated conversation between a manager and an employee. It's a chance to connect on important issues, build on the relationship and ensure that the employee feels progress toward their goals, both at work and career. It can be a space for coaching, mentorship, or a time to raise difficult issues to bring up day-to-day. Although they're often forgotten in a bust calendar, the 1-1 is important to ensure alignment between a manager and their team.
The primary purpose of 1-1 meetings is about making space to connect with the employee. It's the best time to help them make progress with their work and overall career. More importantly, you can give feedback, praise, or recognition. It's also the time to raise issues or potential challenges. Lastly, a 1-1 meeting is working together to define the next steps toward achieving a goal.
There is no cut-and-dried answer, but it usually depends on the size and structure of the team. Mark Zuckerberg suggests having weekly 1-1’s. Jason Lemkin, considered to be “the godfather of SaaS,” suggests having one every two weeks. For most companies, once a month is sufficient.
As a manager, try to experiment on the optimal frequency. Having it too often might not be as productive, as there might not be enough to share. On the other hand, you might not catch some underlying issues when you don’t check in for too long. A good compromise is to set something regular with the team and let them know that you are available for a 1-1 anytime should they feel like they need one.
You can use various frameworks to structure your 1-1 meetings and depend on your management style. Here are the three most common frameworks that you can choose from:
The 1-1 is designed so that the employee does 90% of the talking. The goal of the manager is to ask open-ended questions and facilitate the discussion. This structure is perfect for a long-time employee and who has a lot of input to share.
Three Key Areas
This approach is designed to focus on three areas: work performance, career performance, and coaching. This is where manager and mentor roles merge perfectly. You're not only helping the employee to achieve work goals but see the bigger vision of their career.
This framework is split into two sections: past performance and future opportunities. Which areas did the employee do well, and which ones need improvement?
Regardless of how you structure your meeting, make sure to end with action items. What are the insights that need to be turned into action?
This template has five sections and is designed for a weekly 1-1 meeting, but you can easily modify it depending on your needs.
This open-ended question is a great way to start a 1-1 because it breaks the ice and builds rapport. You can also build on the next discussion points depending on their answer.
Depending on the framework, you can specify the bullet points here. For example, you can list three bullet points or questions about this week's performance. This way, the employee knows what to expect during the 1-1. This section focuses more on the bigger discussions, such as career and overall performance.
This dives deeper into the actual actions taken and the results of the employee’s projects. This is also an excellent section to transition to the feedback portion of the 1-1. If the employee made remarkable progress, it's the perfect time to praise him.
This is the time to praise, provide feedback, and coach the employee. This can be tricky to write because the employee needs an idea of what it should be about. Still, it shouldn't be specific enough to ruin the surprise (if you're giving praise) or to cause anxiety (if you're providing sensitive feedback). Use your best judgment whether to make this section synchronous or asynchronous.
List down all the action items, the owner, and the deadline. You might also need to break down bigger goals into small, actionable tasks. For example, if you've discovered that an employee wants to transition into a new role, what would be the best next steps?
1-1 meetings should be every manager’s priority. The great thing about async meeting tools is that you can run your meeting without jumping on any video calls, especially when things get busy. If you and your direct report work together on the agenda before the meeting, there will be more context, making the meeting more comprehensive and productive.