Back to resources

What Makes a Great One-on-One?

Leadership
Meetings
Feedback

25 October, 2021

Shubhro Roy
Shubhro Roy

Engineering Manager at box

Shubhro Roy, Engineering Manager at Box, establishes a steady rhythm of mentorship by planning bi-weekly one-on-ones with his direct reports.

Problem

What is the best way to see eye-to-eye with a report as their new manager? One-on-ones are one of the most immediate sources of information about what goes on in the world of your team. They provide another dimension to the way that you communicate with each associate, both collectively and on an individual basis.

I’ve seen a lot of people fall into this pitfall where they feel as though they know nothing about what it takes to conduct a one-on-one, but it is something to be mastered throughout the course of one’s career. Investing time into your one-on-ones will get you and your reports to a place where leading them to become a natural thing.

Actions taken

The first few times that you meet with somebody one-on-one, your demeanor should be friendly, just like when you’re chatting with a friend. You need to connect with them at a human level first and establish a sense of trust.

If you can, schedule thirty-minute blocks with each member of your team weekly or biweekly. They will bring you feedback about what’s going on and will be able to tell you how they’re doing and feeling. You have a chance to inquire about any projects that they’re involved with currently, as well as solicit feedback for yourself as a manager.

Before, you were part of a team yourself, focusing mainly on the tasks that you were assigned. When you become a manager, however, this limited field of view will not be enough. You need to be aware of all of the other projects going on throughout the organization. The most direct source of information will be your teammates, the people working on these projects themselves.

Hey, what are you working on? Oh, this project? Let’s talk delivery. What will our impact be if we succeed? Are there any roadblocks you foresee? You will be able to get an idea of how engaged they are with their work and whether or not they feel challenged by it. Sometimes it also helps to explicitly ask what their engagement level is on a scale of 1 to 10. Keep track of this metric over time and it might just help you identify a gradual disengagement trend before it leads to attrition.

These are not difficult discussions to have; terms like “EQ” can throw people off a little bit. They see this big, confusing skill set that they aren’t sure how to approach. It’s a human thing. You just need to figure out how to access it when you’re talking to people. Regarding them as a peer can help a lot.

Once you have a sense of trust established, make sure you set aside at least a quarterly one-on-one to discuss performance and growth with your direct reports. It's better to provide continuous feedback than wait for yearly performance check-ins which take them by surprise. Timely feedback is crucial for the growth of your team members and ensures they are not caught by surprise during the end-of-year conversations.

Lessons learned

  • Starting one-on-one by telling your report that you’re going to talk about career development is a very top-down way of approaching the session. Instead, you need to get on their level; make it clear that you are here to help them in their journey, not to simply tell them to do something. Ask how you can help them.
  • Schedule your 1:1s in such a way that you don't have a meeting immediately before or after it if possible. This will reduce the chances of rescheduling your 1:1s often or having to cut them short. If you do miss a 1:1 make sure to reschedule it at the earliest. This shows your team that you take them seriously and they will thank you for it.

Discover Plato

Scale your coaching effort for your engineering and product teams
Develop yourself to become a stronger engineering / product leader


Related stories

Leaving Room to Say Things Suck — Leadership Lessons from “Ted Lasso”

17 August

A major sign of trust, comfortability, and vulnerability is for someone you lead to be able to say something sucks.

Building A Team
Company Culture
Leadership
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
John Hartley

John Hartley

Senior Engineering Manager at Curology

How to Maintain Happiness: The Underrated Aspect of Creating Team Dynamic

2 August

Jonathan Ducharme, Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord, encourages the importance of a workplace environment that cultivates mental wellness.

Personal Growth
Company Culture
Leadership
Internal Communication
Psychological Safety
Jonathan Ducharme

Jonathan Ducharme

Engineering Manager at AlleyCorp Nord

Scaling a Team in Two Parts: The Product and Manager

2 August

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti, Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart, walks through his experience scaling a team, product and his skills as a leader.

Managing Expectations
Product
Scaling Team
Leadership
Meetings
Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Viswa Mani Kiran Peddinti

Sr Engineering Manager at Instacart

Congratulations you're an Engineering Manager! Now What?

29 July

Congratulations, you have just been promoted to an engineering management role. Once you are done celebrating the promotion you have worked hard to earn you might start to ask yourself, now what do I do?

Leadership
New Manager
AJ St. Aubin

AJ St. Aubin

Director Software Engineering at The RepTrak Company

Leading A (Distributed) Team? Foster "Above the Line" Behaviors.

12 July

No online tool will address your team's ability to connect, collaborate, and deliver results if the individuals don't bring the right mindset to work.

Changing A Company
Building A Team
Company Culture
Leadership
Ownership
Ram Singh

Ram Singh

CTO at REAL Engagement & Loyalty