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My guidelines to successful one-on-ones.

Nikhil Pandit

Engineering Manager at Superhuman

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Problem

"When I was new to management, I didn't really understand the point of one-on-ones. I made all the classic mistakes, thinking: 'I am always available, can't people just talk to me whenever they want to?' or 'Is there enough to talk about every week?' Now I see the value of one-on-ones. With that in mind, here are a few thoughts I have around successful one-on-ones:"

Actions

  1. Let your direct report set the agenda. This time is all about them, so give them a chance to choose what they want to talk about. However, I always try to have a prompt in mind in case they have not prepared anything.
  2. Weekly schedule Some people prefer an hour long one-on-one every alternate week. I prefer half hour one-on-ones every week. This is done to reduce the gap between one-on-ones, so that if my report has something on their mind, I can hear it sooner rather than later.
  3. Let people talk I have a few good conversation starters, such as "What's on your mind?", "How are you doing today?" and "On a scale of 1-10, how are you feeling?" but after that I want people to talk to me. As a manager, you have to learn to get used to 10-15 seconds of awkward silence. People don't like these types of silences and start talking eventually.
  4. Don't set a rigid framework People are all different, and your one-on-ones should reflect this. Some people talk a lot while others need more prompting, some people follow up from their last one-on-one and others focus on different topics each time, and some people like to share personal things while others don't. Adapting to and knowing what works for each person so they get the most of the meeting is key. One-on-ones are a lot more meaningful if your direct report drives the discussion.
  5. It's better to have a short meeting than to cancel I try to avoid rescheduling or canceling one-on-ones. Make it a ritual and if it is shorter because neither you nor your report has much to say, that's fine. I also don't like to break an intense discussion. That's why I always book 15 minutes extra in my calendar in case the one-on-one exceeds the planned 30 minutes. Then, if needed, I book a follow-up meeting.

Resolution

"Remember that one-on-ones are about building a trusting relationship and that takes time, so don't be discouraged if your one-on-ones are initially difficult. A successful one-on-one will allow you to build trust with your reports, and also makes you deeply aware of what is going on in your team. You don't want ideas or issues to fester in people's mind, and want to be able to get ahead of problems rather than finding out about problems after they have grown too large."


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Nikhil Pandit

Engineering Manager at Superhuman


Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyFeedback TechniquesIndividual Contributor RolesTeam & Project Management

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