Imagine having a golden ticket to build a strong relationship and trust with your manager. That’s precisely what a 1:1 meeting is—a golden opportunity to not just discuss work but to strengthen the bond between you and your manager. As I discuss in my book “Cubicle to Corner Office“, these meetings are your time to shine, set the agenda, and drive the conversation. Here’s how to make the most of it.
THE PRE-MEETING PHASE: SETTING THE STAGE
📝SETTING THE AGENDA
It’s your responsibility to set the agenda. Use a shared document to jot down key points, questions, or challenges that need to be addressed. According to the book “Radical Candor” by Kim Scott, a well-prepared agenda can make the difference between a productive meeting and a wasted opportunity.
- 🏆Wins and Achievements: Start with your recent wins, no matter how small. For example, if you successfully led a team meeting or hit a project milestone, bring it up. This sets a positive tone and gives you a confidence boost.
- 🚧Blockers and Bottlenecks: Discuss any challenges you’re facing in your projects. For instance, if you’re stuck on a coding issue, come prepared with potential solutions like seeking help from a senior developer or taking a relevant online course.
- 📅Plans for the Following Week: Outline your goals and tasks for the upcoming week. Be specific. Instead of saying, “I’ll work on the project,” say, “I plan to complete the data analysis for Project X.”
- 🚀Career Development: Discuss any courses, certifications, or skills you’re working on to improve your professional profile. For example, if you’re taking a course on machine learning, update your manager and discuss how it could benefit your current role.
- 💼Personal Updates: 1:1’s are a great opportunity to keep your manager appraised of things going on in your life outside the office. This is an opportunity to build personal rapport about things such as interesting books you are reading or shows that you are watching. This is also an appropriate setting to bring up more sensitive topics such as significant life events or work-related asks, such as PTO approvals or remote work accommodations.
🕜FREQUENCY AND DURATION
The frequency of 1:1s can vary depending on the needs of the team and the nature of the work. Some managers prefer weekly meetings, while others find longer bi-weekly sessions more effective. Aim for at least 30 minutes but no more than an hour. This ensures that there’s enough time to cover all topics without the meeting dragging on. The other key factor to remember is that these meetings could be moved within a week, but should never be canceled. These meetings are a key check-in tool for you and your manager. Maximize this focused time, and put away any distracting devices such as your cell phone.
THE MEETING ITSELF: A STRUCTURED CONVERSATION
👏OPEN WITH POSITIVES
Start the meeting by celebrating a recent win or acknowledging a job well done. Research from Harvard Business Review suggests that starting with positives can lead to more constructive conversations.
🍎THE CORE DISCUSSION
Discuss ongoing projects, upcoming deadlines, and any roadblocks. But also make room for more nuanced topics like team dynamics and work culture. This is your chance to get into the weeds of day-to-day operations and long-term objectives.
🌟THE GOLDEN NUGGET: BE PROACTIVE ABOUT CHALLENGES
When discussing blockers and challenges, don’t just present the problem; present potential solutions. This shows that you’re not just identifying problems for your manager to solve, but are actively engaged in solving them. Why is this important? Because it demonstrates your problem-solving skills and initiative, traits that managers highly value. It also frees up your manager to focus on higher-level strategic decisions rather than getting bogged down in the weeds of operational issues.
👨LEVERAGE YOUR MANAGER FOR PRIORITIZATION
Your manager can be an invaluable resource for helping you prioritize your work. If you’re juggling multiple projects or tasks, use the 1:1 meeting to discuss which ones are most critical to the team or company goals. If you feel like you have extra capacity, this is a good opportunity to be proactive and ask for any additional projects or initiatives that you can help out with.
If you are drowning in work, make it clear that you don’t want to peanut butter over all of your tasks. Ask for more clarity as to which items require your focused attention, and which tasks could potentially be postponed or delegated to someone else. This not only helps you focus your efforts but also aligns your work with broader organizational objectives.
🔄ENCOURAGE TWO-WAY FEEDBACK
Feedback should flow in both directions. Use a framework like “Situation-Behavior-Impact” to provide clear, actionable feedback. According to a study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, structured feedback is more effective in improving performance.
- The delicate art of giving feedback to your manager can be tricky but is essential for a healthy working relationship. Be specific and constructive. For example, if you feel that team meetings are unproductive, suggest an agenda or a time-boxing method to make them more efficient. Here are a few other examples of delicate areas where you should be providing feedback and asking for guidance on how to approach a situation:
- When other team members aren’t pulling their weight frame it in a way that focuses on the project’s success rather than individual shortcomings. For instance, you could say, “I’ve noticed that we’ve missed a few deadlines recently. What can we do to ensure everyone is contributing effectively?”
- When another team’s delays are affecting your project, discuss how to manage these dependencies. You might say, “The design team’s delay is affecting our launch timeline. How can we better coordinate with them to meet our deadlines?” Your manager can be an effective advocate here to help unblock other teams by reinforcing the importance of your projects with their leaders. The earlier they have visibility into these blockers, the better.
🏋️DISCUSSING CAREER PROGRESSION
Career development is often a neglected topic in 1:1s, but it’s crucial. Instead of making every meeting feel like an annual review, focus on bite-sized progress. Discuss short-term goals, like mastering a new tool or improving a specific skill set. Ask for feedback on recent projects and how they align with your career path. This keeps the conversation focused and actionable, allowing for incremental growth.
✅THE POST-MEETING PHASE: ENSURING FOLLOW-THROUGH
End the meeting by summarizing what was discussed and agreeing on next steps. This could be tasks to complete, people to talk to, or skills to develop. Make sure these action items are recorded and revisited in the next meeting.
👔THE MANAGER’S PERSPECTIVE
From a manager’s standpoint, preparation is key. Managers should review the agenda set by the individual contributor (IC) and come prepared to discuss each point. But preparation goes beyond just reading the agenda; it involves understanding the context behind each item. Here are some additional considerations:
- Active Listening: Managers should practice active listening during the meeting. This means not just hearing what the IC is saying, but truly understanding the underlying issues or concerns. Active listening involves asking clarifying questions and paraphrasing to ensure mutual understanding.
- Providing Constructive Feedback: When delivering feedback, it should be specific, actionable, and constructive. Managers should avoid generic statements like “good job” and instead focus on what exactly was well-executed and why it matters. This makes the feedback more meaningful. You can also try to use activities such as a start, continue, and stop exercise.
- Being Open to Feedback: Managers should also be open to receiving feedback about their leadership style, communication, or any other aspect that affects the team’s performance. Creating a safe space for open dialogue can lead to valuable insights and stronger team dynamics.
- Discussing Career Path: While the IC will likely bring up their career goals, managers should also be prepared to discuss potential growth paths within the organization. This could involve future roles, skill development, or even lateral moves that could benefit the IC’s career.
- Follow-Through: One of the most critical aspects often overlooked is the follow-through. Managers should ensure that any action items or commitments made during the meeting are tracked and revisited in future 1:1s. This shows that the manager values the IC’s concerns and is committed to their growth and development.
- Emotional Intelligence: Managers should be attuned to the emotional undertones of the meeting. If an IC seems disengaged or frustrated, it’s the manager’s responsibility to probe and understand the root cause. Emotional intelligence can go a long way in resolving underlying issues that may not be explicitly stated.
By taking a more holistic approach to 1:1 meetings, managers not only make the session more productive but also contribute to a culture of trust, open communication, and continuous improvement.
1:1 meetings are a cornerstone of effective management and team dynamics. They’re not just a box to be ticked but a strategic tool for fostering a culture of open communication, continuous feedback, and career development.
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