1-on-1 meetings are an opportunity for managers and team members to build a strong rapport and help each other become more effective. For the team member in particular, they are critical to professional growth.

It’s easy for 1-on-1s to fall by the wayside. We’re all super busy getting $#!τ done, and time for personal interactions gets moved to the back burner if we’re not disciplined. That is a huge mistake.

In my years as a people manager, I’ve seen first-hand how critical effective meetings are when it comes to scaling your team – especially 1-on-1s. So “tip #0” is to actually have 1-on-1 meetings consistently (usually weekly or fortnightly).

Soak up these next seven tips, then have a meta-conversation with your manager or team member about putting them to use and making the most of your time together.

1. Share the agenda

There are competing schools of thought as to whether 1-on-1 meetings are primarily for the benefit of the manager or for the team member. While it’s important for both parties to feel like the 1-on-1 is a legitimate use of their time, I think team members should get priority here.

I suggest letting the team member drive 75% of the agenda, and the manager 25%. Take a minute to agree on the points you’ll cover at the beginning of the meeting, or if you’re really organized, beforehand. Team members: with 75% of the power comes 75% of the responsibility for thinking of topics ahead of time! Be sure to come prepared.

Each of my team members and I share a Trello board where we can add agenda items as they pop into our heads, track what we’ve discussed, and assign ourselves follow-up actions.

✅ Tip: Copy this Trello board template and customize it for your 1-on-1 meeting agendas. (And find more creative uses for Trello boards here.)

An example 1-on-1 meeting agenda template

2. Don’t use 1-on-1 meetings for status updates

Status updates are necessary between managers and team members. Plus, they’re a comfortable, familiar topic. For these reasons, they can easily become the focal point of 1-on-1s. Don’t let this happen!

Managers are always being advised to give feedback to their reports and talk about career goals frequently instead of saving it all for the annual review. Guess what? 1-on-1s are a perfect time to have those conversations.

Project updates should (ideally) happen via some non-meeting alternative: email, Jira issues, chat, or a good old-fashioned desk drive-by. If there’s something meaty to discuss, like pivots or important decisions, make it the last topic on your 1-on-1 agenda so it doesn’t accidentally overtake the entire meeting.

3. Encourage candor

1-on-1 meetings will only be effective if both manager and team member trust that they’re in a safe space to speak openly. Creating that environment requires effort from both parties.

For their part, managers should get into the habit of providing frequent feedback with specific examples. Aim for a 50/50 fuel-air mixture of praise and constructive criticism. Also, be candid about challenges the team is facing so your team members feel deeply connected with the team’s mission. You might even inspire them to contribute at a higher level.

Team members, be open about where you’re struggling and need help. Your manager is there to support you. If the conversation doesn’t get a little awkward, you’re not digging into the important stuff.

4. Take notes

Keeping notes helps you remember the discussion, forms the basis for next steps, and signals that you’re committed to the growth of both the team member and the team. Personally, I find it hard to keep up with taking notes as we go. Nor do I love having one (or both) of us pecking away on our laptops instead of being fully engaged in listening.

To keep “technology” from becoming disruptive, try dedicating the last 5 minutes of your 1-on-1 meetings to recapping and taking notes. Or spend 5 minutes jotting down notes right after the meeting while it’s still fresh. If you must type notes as you go, at least mute noisy notifications like email and chat programs.

5. Get out of the conference room

Varying the location of your 1-on-1 meetings is a great way to change your patterns of interaction. The truth is, you don’t really know how your sit-across-the-table routine comes across in terms of power dynamics.

Mix it up! Get a coffee. Lunch and chat. Do a walk-and-talk, which is good for creative thinking and building rapport. It could also save your life. Be sure to consider the kinds of conversations that are appropriate for these different environments.

1-on-1 meetings are a great excuse to get out of the office

6. Clarify what you want from the conversation

With each topic, be clear about what you want out of the discussion. Team members: are you asking your manager to take some specific action, or asking for input on how you yourself should take action? Managers: ask your team member whether they’d like you to get involved in solving a problem, or are simply making you aware of a sticky situation they’re working through.

7. Recap and set expectations

We often start our 1-on-1 conversations with the most important topics and end with the least important ones. This has the effect of normalising the priority of things in the minds of both manager and team member.

At the end of the meeting, make a conscious effort to recap the most important topic(s) and tasks using questions like:

  • What are our expectations of each other this week?
  • What were the most important actions we were going to take this week?

Then check in against these next time so you both will feel like 1-on-1 meetings have some forward momentum from week to week.

. . .

Here’s dirty little secret: at Atlassian we actually like meetings, as long as they’re done right. Before you go, browse our collection of articles about meetings and learn how to make them suck less.

Keep reading

Work smarter, better, and faster with weekly tips and how-tos.

Subscribe now