1:1 meetings were first created by Andy Grove at Intel. They were the primary way managers learned what was going on with their direct reports.
Of all the tools at a manager’s disposal, the 1:1 meeting might be the most impactful.
They help you as a manager stay grounded with the goings on in your department or organization. They help you build stronger relationships with team members. They help you identify problems early. And they help you model the values and behaviors you want in your direct reports.
But they can be even more.
A mechanism for meaning.
They also give you the opportunity to find meaning in your work, regardless of the role or the company.
I’m a big believer in the idea of “funeral worthy relationships”. Relationships where the difference you make in someone’s life is so immense they would immediately drop what they’re doing and fly across the country to your funeral.
In a professional setting, 1:1 meetings create the space for you to materially build into the lives of your team.
You have the power to make them feel heard. To equip them with skills that pay dividends for the rest of their careers. To have the kind of conversations they remember years later.
Here’s how to do it.
Framing the meetings.
When you start to run 1:1 meetings with your team, it’s important to provide clarity on what their purpose is and what they are for.
They are not primarily status meetings. They are a venue for the direct report to discuss challenges they are facing, get coaching and feedback on how to level up.
That said, it is their meeting. If they want to use the time to provide you a status update that’s ultimately their prerogative. But in my opinion it’s not an ideal use of that time.
The meetings should happen consistently. either every week or every other week. They should be blocked out in advance on the calendar, not scheduled ad hoc - otherwise they won’t happen consistently.
Meeting Agenda: GAIN
I like to use the following format for 1:1 meetings:
I like to start meetings with a moment to celebrate wins or talk about what we’re grateful for in our lives in the last week. These could be professionally or personally. This helps start the meeting from a place of gratitude.
Past action items from the previous meeting, and their status. Ideally these are all completed. If not, explain why not. It could be because priorities shifted, or something make it no longer relevant. Or it could be because they just didn’t get to it. In the latter case, they should include their plan for making sure this doesn’t happen again.
This should be the meat of the meeting. The direct report should list the issues they want to discuss. They should explain the issue, explain what role they might have played in creating the issue, and take a stab at proposing a solution to the problem.
You don’t want meetings to devolve where they come to you with problems and you solve them. This trains them to defer their thinking to yours. You want to help them progressively learn to take ownership for problems and identify solutions.
You do this through a series of questions, helping them get to the root of the issue, and helping them arrive at potentially solutions.
What are the actions items coming out the meeting. This includes the action items identified during the accountability phase, as well as next steps identified during the Issues portion.
Before the meetings.
I’m a big fan of doing pre-work before most meetings. Too many people use a meeting on the calendar as a way to defer thinking. As a result they show up unprepared and you waste most of the meeting time getting everyone up to speed.
In high functioning teams, there is pre-work done prior to the meeting. That material is circulated to the attendees on the team, and sometimes even discussed asynchronously via a Google Doc or other tool. This allows the meeting itself to be highly productive.
1:1 meetings should be no different. Ideally both your direct report have shared with each your your Gratitude, Accountability, and Issues before the meeting begins. This gives both parties the chance to digest prior to the meeting so no one is surprised and the meeting can run as well as possible.
Your Role in the Meeting
“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou
You have multiple roles in a 1:1 meeting.
Your job is to help your direct report solve the pressing issues they are dealing with. But more importantly, you have an opportunity to model what a good manager looks like. The way you conduct yourself in these meetings subconsciously or consciously shapes your direct report.
In an ideal world, you are modeling:
- How to be a good manager.
- The values of the organization.
- What it means to be a person of character.
Some suggestions on how to do this well:
Prepare yourself to serve.
Right before the meeting starts, remind yourself of the opportunity you have to make a dent in this person’s life. Remind yourself of what you’re trying to model.
When you set an intention prior to a meeting, you dramatically increase the likelihood of that intention coming to fruition.
Ask powerful questions.
This is their meeting. They should do the most talking. Your job is to ask questions, get clarification, and help guide them to an answer.
If they arrive at the answer themselves, they are much likely to own the implementation. And they walk out feeling empowered.
The better your questions, the better the answers. Become a student of powerful questions. A couple of my favorites:
- What does this project look like when it’s done? This helps train your direct report to focus on outcomes. When we’re in the weeds we can lose sight of the high level objective. This can help recenter.
- What would amazing look like? While you can’t guarantee a project ends up amazing, you can manufacture the conditions that make it more likely. I’ve found simply asking this question gets people to start to think bigger.
- What’s the next physical thing you can do to move this forward? Most of the time when we procrastinate it’s because we don’t know the answer to this question. Training your team member to get in the habit of asking this question will help them become more productive.
- If I wasn’t here, what would you do? This can help them build the muscle of thinking harder for themselves vs. deferring their thinking to you as their manager.
Modeling the values of the organization.
I’m a huge believer in the power of values as a tool to attract and retain talent. But in order for them to be effective, you have to live them out every day. Values always are relevant only to the degree they manifest themselves in action.
Ultimately an organization doesn’t have values. People do. Your job as a manager is to embody the values of the organization in your own behavior. And 1:1s are the ideal place to practice this.
Prior to the meeting, remind yourself what those values are. Consider their implications - the things that one should do and should not do as a result of having those values.
Consider creating a cheat sheet or checklist for yourself with ways to embody those values in a variety of situations, including 1:1s. Review that checklist periodically, including right before your 1:1 meetings.
Your power as a manager
There’s a good chance you remember a manager you had who made an outsized impact on your life. You can point to very specific ways they empowered you, encouraged you, challenged you. You likely have a different career slope as a result of their impact.
You have the power to be that for your own direct reports. To help them improve in their jobs. To help make them feel seen. To give them a sense of mastery, autonomy, and purpose.
Your job can be infused with a sense of calling, no matter what product or service your organization provides. You have people, right now, looking for someone to learn from.
May we take this sacred responsibility seriously.