How to have effective 1-on-1 meetings

The following paragraphs are some passages from The Making of a Manager that were valuable to me. I’ve paraphrased them here for my own reference.

I have found that having good 1-1s is important to build a good relationship between a manager and their team. However, it is very easy to get sucked into having 1-1s where you only focus on the immediate priorities. The steps listed below are useful for putting priorities in perspective and taking a step back to look at overall goals and expectations of both people.


How can you achieve better 1-on-1s?

The answer is preparation. It’s rare that an amazing conversation springs forth when nobody has a plan for what to talk about. If you want to make 1-1s valuable, both parties should prepare. Here are some ideas to get started:

Discuss top priorities: What are the one, two, or three most critical outcomes for your report and how can you help them tackle these challenges?

Calibrate what “great” looks like: Do you have a shared vision of what you’re working toward? Are you in sync about goals or expectations?

Share feedback: What feedback can you give that will help your report, and what can your report tell you that will make you more effective as a manager?

Reflect on how things are going: Once in a while, it’s useful to zoom out and talk about your report’s general state of mind—how is he/she feeling on the whole? What’s making him/her satisfied or dissatisfied? Have any of his/her goals changed? What has he/she learned recently and what does he want to learn going forward?

Every time I have a one-on-one, I have a single mission: to understand how the other person is feeling. 

Questions to Ask in 1-on-1s as a Manager

Identify: These questions focus on what really matters for your report and what topics are worth spending more time on.

  • What’s top of mind for you right now?
  • What priorities are you thinking about this week?
  • What’s the best use of our time today?

Understand: Once you’ve identified a topic to discuss, these next questions get at the root of the problem and what can be done about it.

  • What does your ideal outcome look like?
  • What’s hard for you in getting to that outcome?
  • What do you really care about?
  • What do you think is the best course of action?
  • What’s the worst-case scenario you’re worried about?

Support: These questions zero in on how you can be of greatest service to your report.

  • How can I help you?
  • What can I do to make you more successful?
  • What was the most useful part of our conversation today?

Thanks again to Julie Zhao for the great book.

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