Running 1:1s

By | September 5, 2022
Two persons discussing during a 1:1. Photo by Jopwell.

It’s part of a manager roles to have weekly 1:1 with people in your team and your peers. In this post, I’ll focus only on the 1:1s with people reporting to you.

Manager Contract

When someone new join my team or when I join a new team, I’m asking a set of questions to my report that are meant to understand how to best help them and how to build a strong relationship.


Here’s a list of questions I’m asking people in my team to answer of our first official 1:1.

  • Which areas would you like the most support with?
  • How would you like to receive feedback and support?
  • What could be a challenge for us working together?
  • How might we know if the support I’m offering is not going well?
  • How confidential is our meeting?
  • What are the qualities of a perfect manager for you?
  • What are all the projects you are working on?
  • Where are you focusing your growth?

Each of these questions aim to identify some key points in the relationship your are building in your team.

Which areas would you like the most support with?
With this question you, as a manager, can identify if there are organizational issue (people asking for support dealing with other people / teams / processes) and if your report knows his/her weakness and areas for growth opportunities.

How would you like to receive feedback and support?
Most of the time I’m hearing that people want constant feedback but here the how is important. Is it during our 1:1’s or is it directly as you see something happening? As a manager, the feedback you provide your team is important for them to know 1) they are on the right track, 2) making progress, 3) you have their back and care about them.

What could be a challenge for us working together?
This question is giving an opportunity to your report to address a potential challenge in your relationship. Maybe you were peer and got promoted instead of them? Maybe you are on a different time zone? Maybe you have significant different culture?
It might also be a moment where your team express what they like about their manager (don’t micro-manage, add more loads than help, …)

How might we know if the support I’m offering is not going well?
It’s critical to have a mechanism where, as a manager, you can validate that you are helping your team positively. It’s important to get feedback from your team, so you can grow as a manager.

How confidential is our meeting?
As a manager, it’s important that you can take actions on some of the conversation you have during your 1:1s. It might be that you figure out that someone is at risk of attrition or someone is not happy in his/her current role. I believe it’s important to be transparent with the team about this and set the right expectations. It’s also important that the team knows they can speak with you without having everything bubbling up. Being explicit during the conversation and asking how confidential they want to keep it is a good mechanism for trust.

What are the qualities of a perfect manager for you?
This is one question were you can learn what is important for your report from his/her manager. Is it all about the career, is it about giving autonomy, or is it about building a sense of belonging?
You can learn a lot from past examples of perfect manager and poor manager as well.

What are all the projects you are working on?
This question is more about learning what your report is working on… you might be surprised to learn they are working on more things that you expected. It’s a great foundation to start learning more about all of these items.

Where are you focusing your growth?
I’m a huge fan of the growth mindset having clear objectives for growth can help building a better team and happier people. When someone don’t have any focus on growth it might be an indicator that some coaching on growth mindset can be applied OR that this person is so busy that s/he can’t focus on growth.

Resources: Become an effective software engineering manager (book)

Beyond the manager contract

Once you have agreement on the manager contract, you can run into your weekly 1:1s.
This is where you can 1) learn insights from your team, 2) identify obstacles, 3) coach.

Insights from your team

As a manager, you want to learn all the insights your report have gathered during the week (see the product strategy management post if you are wondering why). Sources of insights can be quantitative, qualitative, technology, and industry. As a manager, it’s your role to disseminate all the insights to the right people in the organization.

Identify obstacles

There are many different obstacles that can meet your team and where as a manager you can provide coaching and support.

  • Dependency on another team
  • Need to acquire a new technology
  • Customer issues
  • Single chock point (platform team?)
  • Senior stakeholder raises concern


I strongly recommend this book from Michael Bungay Stanier to learn how to coach: The Coaching Habit – Say less, ask more & change the way you lead forever
The crux of it can be summarized in 7 questions:

  1. What’s on your mind?
    Stay focused and open.
  2. And what else?
    Help boost the following questions.
  3. What’s the real challenge here for you?
    Begins to funnel the topic in a way that focuses the conversation.
  4. What do you want?
    It’s the heart of the matter, the foundation question.
  5. How can I help?
    We learn what our role should be here.
  6. If you are saying yes to this, what are you saying no to?
    Develop the strength of staying curious before committing.
  7. What was the most useful for you?
    Learn what was valuable from the coached person.

Keep it written

For all my 1:1s (also with my manager) I’m keeping a document that I increment every week, so I can be reminded of our conversation over time and we can measure our progress as well. It’s also a good mechanism to ensure people can add questions in the document instead of sending you another email / IM.

Anything else that is helpful for your 1:1s?

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