A 1:1 meeting consists of private discussions between two collaborators, such as a manager and a direct report. These meetings are usually held on a regular basis and can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour.
Throughout my career I’ve been though my different types for formats of 1:1, as an individual contributor and as a manager and director. This experience has taught me what works and what doesn’t, especially in the context of distributed or remote work.
A regular cadence is essential as it enables individuals to prepare for the meeting by thinking about topics they want to discuss, preparing any work or results, and considering any assistance they’d like to ask the other intervenient.
Other than experimenting with what feels right, I don’t believe there is a hard rule on how frequently these should occur. This is heavily dependent on the dynamic between the two people. People have asked me to schedule 1:1’s every week because they value them so much. On the other hand, I’ve had people who didn’t see the point in these and wanted them to happen less frequently.
If there isn’t a lot of contact and communication between the individual contributor and the manager on a regular basis, a weekly meeting is probably the best cadence. This enables the manager to assess the progress of the work and provide direction as needed.
A bi-weekly meeting should be enough if there is frequent communication between the two involved (via Slack, team projects, etc.) that does not require going over projects in 1:1’s, and if there are no ongoing sensitive situations that need to be covered (such as performance issues, personal matters that impact the work, and so on). During the week when the 1:1 is not taking place, the manager should check in with the direct report to see how things are going and if they require any assistance.
If the manager is working with a large team, having a large number of 1:1’s takes a lot of time, and it may be worth considering only having 1:1’s once a month. In this situation, it’s critical to focus on topics other than the day-to-day grind, such as career growth and progression. I’d only recommend doing this if you’re working with a senior designer who doesn’t require a lot of design direction or management support. Designers working on lower impact projects, or when dealing with projects that are incremental and do not require your input in decision making, are examples.
These meetings are frequently used for reporting, with the individual contributor informing the manager about the status of the projects in which they are involved. This is not the best use of everyone’s time in my opinion, and this type of reporting can be done async. Matter of fact, it is recommended approach for the individual contributor to share their weekly/bi-weekly status update prior to the call so that the manager has a better understanding of the status of the projects and can directly address any topics that require discussion during the 1:1 call.
1:1’s provide an opportunity for individual contributors and their managers to form closer work connections in the context of distributed work. It is perfectly acceptable to discuss personal topics because it allows both parties to better understand each other.
The manager’s attention should be drawn to listening to and supporting the individual contributor during the 1:1. I’ve always encouraged my direct reports to take the lead and bring topics to the table, whether it’s a challenge they’re facing, something they need more information or clarification on, work they need feedback on (such as reviewing designs), assistance with unblocking situations, or decision making.
1:1’s can also be used to review and define priorities, depending on the team structure and nature of the relationship. In general, I prefer to do this exercise at a later time, preferably with the participation of other designers or project team members. However, there are times when the individual contributor has a lot on their plate and needs help prioritising what’s important and communicating changes to stakeholders.
These moments should also be used to discuss performance and provide and receive feedback. It doesn’t mean you should wait for 1:1’s to give feedback, but it’s always a good idea to reinforce it. People enjoy receiving feedback, but not everyone feels comfortable asking for it. Continuous and timely feedback fosters healthier relationships and makes it easier to manage potential problems. When it comes to asking for feedback it can focus on you as manager, the team, or any other structures in the individual contributor realm. People won’t always have feedback to give because they haven’t thought about it beforehand, but it creates a healthy ritual of asking for feedback so that the individual contributor knows you’re always open to it. But don’t force it; if you notice that no feedback is being provided, it’s best to relax on asking for it; otherwise, it will feel forced.
When discussing performance, it’s a good time to identify areas for improvement and offer advice on how to achieve goals and objectives.
It’s useful to discuss progress and development from time to time. When someone joins the team, and once a year, I ask individual contributors to consider a year-long growth plan. We can revisit it during 1:1’s on a regular basis, understanding our progress in meeting expectations and optimising it to the current reality.
A great practice is to keep a running document in which both parties can add notes about topics to discuss and next steps. I like to provide a template for the meeting agenda, which I keep in the header of the notes document. I’ve learned through trial and error that not everyone prepares for these meetings, so using the template can be a good place to start.
This is what my template agenda looks like:
- Red, Yellow, Green check-in - How can I help? Any issues or blockers? Any questions I can answer? - Any feedback you’d like to share (about the projects, team(s), individuals) - Some feedback for you:
I may have drawn inspiration from multiple sources; please accept my apologies in advance for the lack of attribution.
I never add topics to the agenda before the meeting, but I keep a separate list of things I’d like to discuss and bring those up if the direct report doesn’t. I do this because I prefer to let each individual contributor decide what they want to discuss. I always tell them in intro chats that I want them to think of 1:1’s as their own time, so it’s in their best interest to define what they want to talk about during that time.
The cadence will determine how long these conversations will take. For weekly 1:1’s, 30 minutes should cover the basics; the less frequently you meet, the more time you’ll need to cover more topics.
When there is a need to cover specific topics that are not on the regular agenda, it is best practise to extend the time to one of our, such as discussing growth and career progression.
Ideally, you will have a sense of how the person is doing both personally and professionally after the 1:1. You will be aware of any difficulties or difficulties that the individual contributor is experiencing, and you will both have next steps to address what was discussed. You have given them feedback on their work and performance, and they have given you feedback. These 1:1 meetings will help foster communication and trust between the two people involved over time. You’ll figure out how to collaborate and learn from one another.
The important thing to remember about 1:1’s is that they are always unique, and it is critical to adapt to each team member’s profile. You’ll learn more about them with each meeting, and you should adjust your approach as you go. I frequently ask if they are getting value from the 1:1’s and where and how they would like to improve them to ensure they are getting the most out of it and making the best use of their time.