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How to Make Your One-on-Ones More Effective

Meetings

23 January, 2021

Chitrak Ojha
Chitrak Ojha

Director of Engineering at Twilio

Chitrak Ojha, Engineering Manager at Twilio, discusses what makes one-on-ones most effective and how to structure these meetings to make them productive and impactful for both sides.

Problem

One-on-ones are the fundamental blocks on which trust and support between a manager and employee rest. Therefore, they are much more than mere performance reviews. They should serve as an opportunity for a manager to get to know their reports better, help them improve and grow in their career, but also learn through that interaction and become a better leader.

Actions taken

I like to structure my one-on-ones as follows:

Getting to know your employee

I would open up a meeting with a casual conversation about personal things setting up a solid foundation for a trustful relationship. I would start with more general topics of how the week was and did they do anything interesting, to more personal ones about their personal and professional goals, etc. I would reciprocate being open when talking about myself.

Announcements

Announcements largely refer to the announcement of administrative and logistical matters. Oftentimes people are reluctant to discuss or inquire about some of those issues in a group and this is an opportunity to do it more privately. Their questions range from asking for a week off to inquiring who can help them with removing some roadblocks.

Recent developments

I would use this opportunity to share information and solicit feedback on new developments within the team and more broadly, within the organization. For example, recently we introduced some novelties in our planning process and I would inquire how that was received or if they were happy with how prioritization is done within the planning process.

Receiving feedback

Receiving feedback from your reports on how you, as a manager, are doing and if you are living up to their expectations is one of the most valuable aspects of one-on-ones. I like to show my own vulnerability, be open, and acknowledge that, as a manager, I have a lot of blind spots that I would like to improve. I would be honest and admit that I am relying on their feedback to help me become a great manager who wants to excel in his role.

Delivering feedback

Delivering on-spot feedback to an employee is crucial for their efforts to improve their skills and knowledge. Regardless if your feedback is positive or negative it should be delivered following a certain situation or behavior and should be concrete and actionable.

Your employee’s growth

I like to talk with my reports about their sand plans and better understand what growth means for them. That would help me create the most suitable career development plan for them that should help them strengthen their competencies beyond their current job. The plan should establish bidirectional accountability -- there are some aspects of growth that should be on an employee and some on a manager.

I would encourage my employees to think about and write down in advance the topics they would want to discuss in one-on-ones and create an agenda. Also, a document should include the Notes section where we would write down notes followed by the Action Items sections that include concrete tasks they should complete and I should follow upon.

Lessons learned

  • Managers should learn to listen carefully. I like to receive feedback on everything and anything and listening helps build trust and empathy that instigate candid feedback.
  • Prepare for one-on-ones. Your employees will benefit only from your well-informed insight and thought-through feedback. In addition, be ready to initiate the discussion and share your own experience and problems first.
  • Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability. When delivering feedback feel free to refer to your own shortcomings or mistakes that you are working to improve. Make yourself a human, someone relatable and accessible.

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