Charlie Kroon
Software Engineer II

A Guide to Get the Most Out of Your One-on-ones

Engineering blog

We’ve all been stuck in ineffective 1:1s. There was no clear agenda, and the only thing you spoke about was the last episode of Succession, the other person arrived late, or it was canceled at the last minute. It’s a shame because our calendars are full of one-on-ones, which means we’re essentially wasting these moments. And when I say “wasting” I mean not just wasting time, but potential value as well.

Before we dive into the tips and strategies for different types of 1:1s (e.g. 1:1s with your manager, your peers, or your product manager), let’s cover the three golden rules that apply to all of them:

  • Plan and set the agenda. This helps make the most of your time by focusing on the most important topics. The agenda provides a compass for the conversation, so the meeting can go back on track if the discussion wanders off course.
  • Respect each other’s time. Show up on time and end the meeting when you’re supposed to.
  • Avoid canceling your 1:1s. Regularly rescheduling or canceling sends the message that the meeting isn’t important and that the other person isn’t a priority.

Manager 1:1s 

When it comes to 1:1s with your manager, the main goal is you! Use this time to discuss how you are doing, your career goals, and where you want to go in your role. Keep in mind that it’s your career, so be prepared to drive the conversation. Ensure that the meetings take place consistently and have an agenda and a goal.

Here are some topics to discuss during your next 1:1:

  • What’s been going well — “I really enjoy working on this new project”, “I feel like I’m adding more value to the company”
  • What’s not going well — “I’m doing too much CSS and want to focus more on the backend”, “I feel overloaded, and I struggle with delegating my tasks”
  • The team — “Are there any upcoming projects we need to prepare for?”, “If you could wave a magic wand, what one thing would you change about the team right now?”
  • Career planning — “I want to level up, how do I get there?” or “These are my 3 main goals for the upcoming 6 months, what do you think about them?”
  • Opportunities — “I’d love to work on a customer-facing project” or “Is there anyone I can shadow to learn more about frontend development?”
  • Feedback — “How did I handle that conflict with X?” or “How can I do better?” or “I think it would benefit the team if we could meet more in person”
  • Brainstorming — “Let’s figure out how to tackle this problem together”
  • Resources — “I think taking this course would help me”, “I think I could benefit from going to this conference because…” or “Can you recommend a mentor who can help me with X?”

Remember, your manager wants you to do well and succeed. If you do well, your team does well. And if your team is successful, so is your manager. In other words, you’re both on the same team. Try to see your 1:1s as coaching sessions, take responsibility, and get the most out of them.

General 1:1s

Your 1:1s are a great chance to learn from your colleagues like your squad mates, team lead, designer, engineers from other teams, or product managers. Plus, it’s a good way to get to know them better.

Here are some examples of things you can talk about during your 1:1s:

  • What’s on their mind — “How are you feeling?“, “What are you working on right now?“, “What challenges are you facing at the moment?”
  • What’s on your mind — “I’m excited to tackle this new project”, “I’m struggling to manage my workload”, “I found the last team retrospective helpful because of X”
  • Project Progress — “Are there any roadblocks that could prevent us from meeting our deadline?“, “I’m concerned about this issue, what do you think?“, “How can we get more people excited about this project?”
  • Technical Challenges — “I want to improve the performance of this page, where should I start?“, “When I’m working on OSHA, here’s how I debug a route”
  • Communication and Collaboration — “How can we improve our team’s communication?“, “Do you have any tips for working effectively with people from other departments?”

Though discussing the last episode of Succession is a great conversation to have, try to find balance and prioritize topics during your 1:1s. These meetings are valuable and can improve your work and relationships, so make the most of them! With a little effort, you can turn your 1:1s into your most productive and enjoyable meetings of the week.

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