Why I look forward to weekly 1:1s

A short while ago, our Technical Director, Maja, wrote a post here on Medium titled ‘How we approach 1:1s with the technical team at Playground Inc. and how you can too’. If you’re a manager considering bringing 1:1s to your team, I highly recommend that you give it a read.

If you are instead on the other end of the 1:1 meeting — or, if you’re a manager looking to further understand how this process can be valuable to your reports — this post is for you.

Prior to my career at Playground I had never participated in a 1:1. A typical meeting with my manager was for an annual performance review, or to discuss a specific technical problem I was having trouble with. And so, when first presented with the idea of meeting weekly for a 1:1, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

After going through a few 1:1 meetings, I could see some real benefits:

  1. Having regular meetings made me feel supported. If I was encountering any issues, either technical or otherwise, I knew I had a safe space to voice any concerns. These meetings are also a great reminder that my manager is there to help me whenever I need it, and I can always reach out if I feel the need.
  2. They allow time to get to know your manager and build trust. Not all of what is discussed in a 1:1 needs to be directly work-related. This is a great chance to get to know your manager better, and for them to get to know you as well. After all, we’re all human. Let’s treat each other as such 🙂 In addition, having organic conversations that aren’t just about work might lead you to discuss new paths and opportunities you may not have otherwise been afforded.
  3. I don’t feel stressed or panicked if I encounter a new problem. Knowing that I have support and that there is already time set aside for when I can talk gives me the mental space to focus on the solving the problem. If my 1:1 meeting comes around and I haven’t made any progress, I have an excellent opportunity to gain some fresh perspective. I am absolutely not saying that you should struggle with a problem for a week before getting help with it, but 1:1s can be a great opportunity to talk things out (and sometimes, that’s all you need to arrive at the solution).
  4. I get insight into how I’m performing on my team and within the company. These weekly meetings are a great time to discuss any successes or shortcomings.
  5. I learn about what’s happening at the company. 1:1s are a great opportunity for me to learn if there is anything new going on with the company. I spend much of my day coding or doing research, and have a tendency to really “zone in” to my screen. 1:1s are a time to break away from this, and give me a chance to hear about any new clients coming on board, new projects in the pipeline, or new members joining the team. It’s exciting to hear about new things happening!

How to have productive 1:1s

A successful 1:1 meeting shouldn’t just be up to your manager. They can be treated as opportunities to reflect, learn, and improve. Here are some things that have worked well for me to have great 1:1 meetings:

  1. Make a plan. Take some time to jot down the points you want to touch on during your weekly 1:1. This doesn’t have to be a formal agenda, but can serve as a reminder to make sure you get what you need out of the meeting.
  2. Take notes. Every week I bring my notebook into the meeting with me. This way I can keep track of anything we discussed that I want to remember for later, as well as keep track of anything that I have promised my manager I would look into or work on. I have also written here the points that I want to address and afterwards my notes serve as a record of our meetings.
  3. Review. By taking notes each week you can look out for recurring themes in your meetings. Are you running into the same types of problems over and over again? Is there something you can do to break out of that pattern?
  4. Celebrate your successes! For a while, I was noticing that I was spending the majority of my 1:1s discussing problems I was facing. In my job I spend a lot of time problem solving, and I’m constantly thinking about the current problems I’m facing — and how I can either work around them, or overcome them. This theme was so dominant I was neglecting to mention the things that were celebration-worthy. I started making a point of also talking about my successes at work to ensure my meetings had a positive spin and that my achievements weren’t going unnoticed (including being forgotten by myself). I leave my 1:1 meetings excited about the work I’m doing and what’s to come.

If you’re currently practicing 1:1 meetings and are feeling like you’re not getting as much out of them that you could, I encourage you to incorporate some of these points into your next meeting.

1:1 meetings are a valuable tool, but they need to be used effectively and with purpose to work. Let’s also keep in mind that we’re all different people with varied expectations and ideas of success. Your productive 1:1 might look different than my 1:1. What makes 1:1 meetings valuable to you?