1:1s README

1:1s are our best chance to talk about topics that feel too specific or individualized for full-group conversations.

Timing

Andy Grove’s High Output Management is the best general management book I’d recommend above all others. Grove’s recommendation on 1:1 duration has held up well in my experience, and it’s where things usually start:

I feel that a one-on-one should last an hour at minimum. Anything less, in my experience, tends to make the subordinate confine himself to simple things that can be handled quickly.

Additionally, I like to start with a weekly cadence (we can back this off to bi-weekly or monthly as we get to know each other better), but blocking out the time keeps us accountable for at least one hour together during the week.

This is your time

I’ll shoot you a note with an agenda for our first meeting. After that, our 1:1s become your time. We can talk about work issues, career goals, or anything else that’s on your mind–it’s really up to you Some interesting topics might include:

  • Team dynamics
  • Personal (or interpersonal) challenges
  • Opportunities to improve our process or team
  • Growth opportunities
  • Questions (or proposals) for changes beyond engineering

Many points–project updates, say, or reminders about upcoming PTO–are better served by more transparent forums. We can cover them as appropriate, but if an answer already exists elsewhere (in a project management tool, say), feel free to point me there.

Setting the agenda

I keep a shared document (template here) to track our conversations and build mutual accountability on any actions we discuss. It’s also a good place to start building the next week’s agenda: if something needs attention, just add a note in the document. Building the agenda “on demand” during the week (rather than just before our conversation) will help ensure nothing slips through the cracks, as well as giving me extra time to do my homework before we chat. A little self-serving, yes, but also a path to more thoughtful feedback in the event!

Breaking a rule

1:1s are a meeting, and like all meetings they go best with an agenda at one end and actions at the other.

However.

In a 1:1 meeting, we’re both full-time participants in a conversation. No idle time waiting for others to have their say. Leaving space between agenda items allows for free-flowing conversations that may turn up topics we’d otherwise miss.

If we run out of things to say?

We won’t. I will have my own questions, feedback, or problems that may be interesting to tackle together–and if we get through those, we can pair up and solve a bug. It’s OK if we don’t get to everything. But don’t worry about having enough to fill our time.