Holding 1:1s

Managing teams

All Engineering Managers are expected to have recurring 1:1 meetings (one-on-ones) with their team. These meetings are typically held every two weeks and they are 30-minutes long, although the frequency and length are decided with the report. Both parties should equally contribute to the agenda, which may or may not have fixed sections and discussion points.

Thanks to their flexibility, 1:1s are possibly the most valuable tool at a manager's disposal. They create a fixed cadence through which you can carry out a lot of your responsibilities, such as:

  • Gauging the teammate's morale and overall satisfaction with Nebulab.
  • Supporting the teammate in their personal and professional growth.
  • Providing and receiving positive and constructive feedback.
  • Keeping your teammate in the loop about what's going on in the company.
  • Having performance and compensation-related conversations.

No matter your workload and priorities, 1:1s should be considered a sacred ritual. It's okay to reschedule a 1:1 every once in a while if absolutely needed—it's NOT okay to skip them.

What makes a great 1:1

When it comes to 1:1s, there is no right way to do them: every teammate has their communication style and preferences. The secret to a great 1:1 is understanding what your report is interested in discussing, and adapting your management style to it. At the same time, you don't want to come across as fake, so make sure you bring your whole self to the 1:1 as well.

Here are some ground rules to follow for holding effective 1:1s:

  • Prepare thoroughly. Don't jump into a 1:1 with no idea of what you're going to discuss. Review the agenda from the past meeting and use it to prepare the new one. Make sure to always ask your report if they have any points they would like to discuss!
  • Show genuine interest. Your main job during a 1:1 is to build trust and rapport, so that the other person is comfortable telling you what's really on their mind, rather than what they think you want to hear. The only way to build rapport is to show genuine interest in them.
  • Build accountability. The only thing worse than not holding 1:1s is holding useless 1:1s, where it feels like you're both wasting your time. To make your 1:1s useful, build accountability: have clear action items for each meeting and follow up on them as quickly as possible.

One more tip: it can be tempting to schedule all your 1:1s on the same day, so that the rest of your week is free to do other work. However, 1:1s are very demanding—it is hard to effectively do more than one or two a day. Instead, try to distribute them evenly, so that you can give each 1:1 the attention it deserves.

What to discuss in 1:1s

Pro Tip: Managers at Nebulab use Lattice to run the agendas for their 1:1s. It automatically syncs with your calendar, and it can suggest a bunch of useful discussion topics for your meetings. We even have a couple of pre-defined 1:1 templates you can take inspiration from.

In the introduction to this chapter, we hinted briefly at what's typically discussed during 1:1 meetings. For most reports, 1:1s will be a place to discuss how things are going on a personal and professional level, to provide and gather feedback about their performance and yours, to promote their growth, to keep them informed and collect feedback about any new company-wide initiatives.

Just like every teammate has their own communication style, they also have different topics they want to discuss in their 1:1s. The agenda for your 1:1s should be equally shared between you and your report—if something's on their mind, they should be able to talk about it.

One somewhat sensitive topic is how much of their personal life someone should share during a 1:1. As a manager, talking about personal matters during 1:1s can be beneficial for two reasons:

  1. Knowing what's going on outside of work gives both you and your report context and perspective about what happens at work (e.g. if someone's going through a hard time in their personal life, that might explain why they're underperforming).
  2. Sharing stories is one of the best ways to establish a foundation of trust, show vulnerability and build rapport. It shows your report that you're human and fallible, and it reassures them that it's okay to be a real person at work.

On the other hand, work is work, and everyone should respect the privacy of their colleagues. One tried and true approach at Nebulab is to set clear expectations during the first 1:1 about how much of your personal life you're both comfortable sharing—once some ground rules have been put in place, it becomes much easier to speak freely while also respecting each other's boundaries.