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One-On-Ones Through a Cultural Lens

Personal Growth
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path

9 April, 2021

Leo Torres
Leo Torres

Engineering Manager at Carta

Leo Torres, Engineering Manager at Carta, details how his one-on-ones experience, following his arrival to the US, was a watershed moment for his understanding of career growth.

Problem

I am originally from Brazil, where one-on-one meetings are a rare occurrence. While sporadic efforts to introduce them may exist, one-on-ones are not part of company-wide efforts and personal growth conversations. I have ten years of experience now, half of which was in Brazil working at large companies with more than 1000 employees. Starting out as a fresh grad, I had no guidance or mentorship provided at the workplace. Only after arriving in the US and having only a couple of one-on-ones did I realize how critical one-on-ones are for one’s personal growth.

Actions taken

While I didn’t have any coaching or mentorship opportunities in Brazil, I could rely on some people to help me solve technical issues. In retrospect, I realize how I must have missed not having an opportunity to approach someone weekly and discuss both technical challenges and career choices. I had to figure it out myself. Some may use it as an argument that one-on-ones are not important since I found my way around it without it. But I happen to disagree with that.

Sometimes people progress in spite of obstacles, not because of them. When I learned of all the benefits one-on-ones could bring, the regret of never experiencing one in the early days of my career was immediately substituted by the gratitude of being able to guide and coach my reports through one-on-ones.

My current company feels very strongly about one-on-ones, and they are a cornerstone of our company culture. When I joined the company, I was encouraged to have as many one-on-ones with different people across the organization as I could. Back then, we were only 50 people, and it was not hard to meet most of the team.

I still vividly remember the first one-on-one I had with my manager. For the first time, I felt there was someone I could talk to, who can help me out with the challenges I was facing, and on whom I could rely if I would need support. That was when I, for the first time, understood what it meant that one-on-ones are “a report’s time.” It was about me. When I became a manager, though I am someone who talks a lot, I was cautious about creating space for my reports. If they could think of any problem (a rare situation in the engineering universe), we would just chat and connect.

When our company was still smaller in size, we used to have a monthly one-on-one with our CEO. That was another cultural shock for me because I had never met any of my CEOs before. Not because I worked at large companies in Brazil, but because CEOs were widely considered untouchable, levitating three thousand feet above. Even when our company started to grow rapidly, I could still reach out to our CEO in town halls and other meetings.

Finally, one-on-ones were also impacted by the global pandemic. Before, when we had them on-premises, we were more casual, our agenda was less strict, and we were jumping from one topic to another. Now, our Zoom one-on-ones are more intentional and focused. I would write down in advance all the things I would like to discuss with someone, would take notes during the call, and follow up on it. The spontaneity and human connection are starting to fade away, but hopefully, we will be able to get back to our pre-pandemic lives soon.

Lessons learned

  • One-on-ones are critical for ensuring your report’s growth. Even if your company doesn’t value much one-on-ones, as a manager, you can leverage them and help your reports grow.
  • I don’t do one-on-ones only with my reports; I like to have regular one-on-ones with people across the organization. That gives me a fresh insight into what other teams are doing and how their projects are developing. One-on-ones are not only about growth but connection and networking.
  • Managers can help a lot, even when they don’t have much to say or cannot help with concrete problems. Sometimes just being there and caring for people is all it takes.
  • Though one-on-ones are your report’s time, you should facilitate the meeting. Perhaps, someone is less talkative or has a harder time opening up, which is also a challenge you should help them overcome.

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