One on one

Following up on a post I wrote a while back about meetings, some top-of-mind rules to make the most out of 1-1s.

Short and frequent beats long and sporadic – 30-45 minutes every week is optimal; 45-60 minutes every two weeks is doable; 90 minutes and more every month is ineffective.

Commit to being there – If one gets cancelled, reschedule for the next day. Be present for the duration of the 1-1. Never say “I have nothing for you today”, and for sure never ever make a habit of this. What you have to do after the 1-1 is not more important.

Set a broad agenda and be flexible with it – Write down 1 or 2 points you want to discuss, but keep the agenda open in order to allow stuff to emerge. Be ready to forgo the agenda completely if the situation demands it. Always start with some informal chat about the weather, kids, weekend plans, food, and other things that might make a connection.

Listen and ask – If you are the team lead, be ready to shut up. 1-1s are for the other person to express ideas, plans, concerns, issues. They are not for you to get updates or answers, nor they are to display how much you know and how thoughtful you are. When the other person struggles to open up, probe them with open questions: “what’s on your mind?”; “what have you learned the past week?”; “how would you go about it differently next time?”; and when they are done talking, “what else?” to unlock deeper layers.

Think outside the box – If at all possible (it usually is), get out of the office. Consider having 10 minutes 1-1s every day in front of the coffee machine. Pick up the phone and call the other person, instead of meeting on Zoom or Teams. Use 5 to 10 minutes to play a game together, or discuss a book you both read. The less you make it about work, the more the other person will be willing to let go of their and your role and connect in a meaningful way.

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