On 1:1s


Photo by chichacha.

One of the most important parts of my week is my one-on-one (1:1) meeting with Dan, my manager. These meetings generally only last around half an hour, and it’s time extraordinarily well spent. In that half hour we catch up, discuss projects and status, review priorities, troubleshoot blockers, checkpoint against our quarterly goals, and use the time to give each other feedback. It might sound like a pretty dense 30 minutes, and that’s because it is. Our 1:1 meeting is a tightly packed conversation that establishes and reinforces my direction, priorities, and motivation. As a remotie*, I would be lost without it.

The actual meeting is only part of the story, however — while the meeting only lasts for half an hour, I do some prep work the day before. This prep work mostly involves reviewing my projects and goals, writing out what I want to talk about, and sending those notes to Dan so he can review them before we meet. I find this process extremely useful.

Over the months I’ve established a more-or-less standard format for my 1:1 prep notes that includes five fairly straightforward sections:

  • Accomplishments & status
  • Blocked/Waiting on
  • To do over the next week
  • Areas to develop
  • Quarterly goal tracking

Accomplishments & status: This is where I do a quick rundown of my current projects, with one or two sentences covering what I’ve managed to get done in the last week and what the current status looks like.

Blocked/Waiting on: This is where I list the projects I’m stuck on and why, or other things that are blocking progress — either waiting on resources, people, feedback, or whatever else. Having this section is absolutely vital — if I’m blocked on something, we can usually talk it through so I get unstuck, or Dan can figure out what he can do to help.

To do over the next week: By writing out a short list of specific things I plan to work on over the next week, Dan and I can make sure that I’m working on the right things and am prioritizing things properly. This doesn’t take a lot of time to go over, and since we checkpoint on this every week there usually aren’t any changes, but sometimes my task list gets rejigged slightly if other things have come up elsewhere in the organization.

Areas to develop: Usually this is a one or two sentence “big picture” sort of thing. Dan and I talk about longer-term career development once every month or two, discussing what I need to do or develop in order to progress, become more effective, and have more impact. In this part of my prep notes I take a few minutes to review how I think I’m doing in relation to what we discussed and jot down what I believe I need to focus on improving the most.

This section gives Dan a chance to do some career development coaching. While we normally deal with this part of the meeting in a matter of minutes, it’s profoundly useful — this is an incredibly quick and easy way for me to get ongoing lightweight feedback from Dan on a regular basis.

Quarterly goal tracking: We establish a set of goals each quarter, and every week Dan and I review progress on the ones I own and am driving. I find this useful because regularly checkpointing against my goals helps me make sure I’m focusing on the right things. By reviewing these weekly, we can also make ongoing course corrections where needed. Life rarely happens exactly according to plan, and priorities and projects can shift. It’s far better to review and adjust things weekly than to do a single review late in the quarter just to realize that things got off track (at which point the panic sets in).

Video chat: Another thing I should mention is that Dan and I have our meetings using Skype video. We used to just use the phone, but Dan talked me into using video chat and it’s really much, much better. As a remotie, being able to get “face time” like this is way more important than I thought — not only is the communication much higher bandwidth, there’s a psychological impact I can’t really explain. I just feel more connected to the rest of the company, which is both surprising and fantastic. If you’re remote, you should really try using video chat for your 1:1 meetings…I can almost guarantee that it’s more useful than you expect.

And that’s about it. Having developed the habit of prepping for my 1:1 meetings this way, it only takes me about 15-20 minutes to write up my notes to send to Dan, and it makes our meetings incredibly focused and useful. If you’re not sure you’re getting the most out of your 1:1s, you might try something like this — a half hour of prep work on your part for a half hour meeting can have a huge impact.

Do you have particularly awesome 1:1 meetings? What makes them awesome? What tips would you give to people who would like their meetings to be more useful?

  • remotie: noun, a person who works in a different geographic location than his/her manager.

13 thoughts on “On 1:1s

  1. RE: “remotie: noun, a person who works in a different geographic location than his/her manager.”

    Hmmm — I work at Mozilla’s main office, in Mountain View, and my manager (roc) works in New Zealand. Does that technically make me a remotie? πŸ™‚

  2. This is terrific. I am a “remotie”, too, and know how challenging it can be to get even that half hour on the schedule. I have used a more lengthy report/detailed agenda in the past, but your outline is a nice one and much more succinct – I’m going to give it a try. Nice tip about Skype! We do use Skype, but not the video feature. Thanks for sharing.

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  4. Thanks for sharing. I work remotely/virtually too and also use Skype and GTalk. It’s become so normal now I don’t really consider it special. What’s really great is when you meet new people via FB, Twitter or your blog and instead of only typing you arrange to talk or video chat. This week I had an impromptu chat that lasted over three hours with @Dave_Ferguson and next week I have more Skype appointments lined up. Reading and typing is sometimes just too exhausting, I love to grab a coffee and just talk as if we were face to face somewhere. I find this to be the best method of sharing information, tacitly. Final thanks to Harold for mentioning this on his Friday summary πŸ™‚

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  6. For “Accomplishments & status” and “To do over the next week”,
    and even for “Blocked/Waiting on” Bsmedberg’s Mozilla status board works pretty well.

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  10. It is a very good post! I am a new manager and I was looking at having my 1:1 with my staff and manager more organized and more efficient. I will use this as a starting point and will adjust whatever could need to be adjust after a few 1:1.

    Thanks for sharing this with us.

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