A lot has been said about the famous 1:1 meeting, and still many managers have very different views on what it is and how to do it.

It’s one of those “management things” that are rarely taught, and new managers often blindly copy what their manager did with them.

Before specifying what an effective 1:1 is, I’d like to share examples of non-effective ones that I have had and seen. As an exercise, after reading this post, come back to them and identify why they are not effective.

Not having 1:1s

I think it’s gonna rain

Status report




By the way

Low frequency

Being effective

The purpose of 1:1 is to build trust.

It is the most important managerial tool, and is the basis for all the other managerial tools, which I will write about in the future.

DALL-E 2 | Rembrandt painting of manager and employee trusting each other

Types of power

Role power — people act because a person is higher in the hierarchy

Expertise power — people act because a person is an expert on the topic

Relationship power — people act because they have good relationship with a person

The claim is that relationship power is the most effective one (getting to results) and is used in the majority of the cases.
You can probably think of examples where you acted only because a manager told you to do something, and you did the bare minimum, and how different it was when someone at work you have good relationships with asked you to.

That is not to say that we need to disregard ‘role’ or ‘expertise’, rather to not forget ‘relationship’ and invest in them, also as managers and experts.

It’s also advised to anyone, manager or not, to have both results and relationships for that reason, also if you’re not a “people person”.

The actionable part — how to do it?

Schedule weekly recurring

Why recurring? Why weekly?

  • Signal the directs they are important. In case of a rare need to reschedule, the next one is only a week away in the worst case.
  • Stability, knowing what to expect, is important to humans and reduces anxiety.
  • Many think of life and work in units of weeks (e.g. weekly piano lesson, weekly staff meeting, weekly check-in of OKRs, etc.)
  • Relationship is not only quality, it’s also quantity — having a deep and meaningful discussion that occurs infrequently has “less value” than a frequent one. You can probably think of examples with your colleagues, friends and family.
  • Communication will occur early and often, which ensures small increments of information, early head-ups and allows taking action on time. A useful metaphor is driving a car and constantly adjusting the steering wheel, not waiting to almost fall off a cliff.
    If we discuss infrequently, we’d only discuss the major things, and usually after they had already happened. An example is meeting your extended family once per year, talking about the major life events that had happened.
  • Directs tend to not make use of “open door” and accumulate stuff for too long, and it may be too late. Maybe think how many of your colleagues make use of it, or how many times you went to your manager with topics to discuss.
  • Time is gained back — one reason managers or directs avoid 1:1s, is the perceived waste of time.
    For the direct, it’s 30 minutes (plus preparation) out of 40 working hours, or 1.25% of the week.
    For the manager it’s weekly 30 minutes (plus preparation) multiplied by the number of directs.
    We don’t waste time, we invest the time to get it back as more output and outcome, i.e. results and retention, focus, growth, soft skills, etc.
  • According to data collected over 3 decades in various countries and organization types, having 1:1s weekly is 80% more effective than bi-weekly (measured as results and retention), where monthly is even worse than not having at all.


  • The meeting is for the direct, not for the manager and not for status updates. If you need them, you can schedule a meeting for that. As some say, “you have two ears and one mouth, use them in this ratio”.
  • Shut down distractions — email, slack, phone, find a quiet location. Focus on the direct.
  • Direct always start — they talk about their topics. A good way to frame is roughly 20 minutes for direct’s topics and 10 for the manager’s. Remember that for the manager it’s much easier to get time from their direct when they need it.
  • Directs can talk about anything, e.g. their family, career aspirations, requesting help on work, growing opportunities, bureaucratic challenges, their vacation. Remember that the purpose is to create trust.
    Learn about your directs, also non-work related things.
  • Take notes, whether you have the 1:1 out on the street, in a café, in the office or over a video call. They are mandatory for trust building and to be able to follow up proactively instead of being asked again and again for a response. After the 1:1 you can potentially add such tasks into your task tracking system, analog or digital.
    Taking notes digitally during the 1:1 has the disadvantage that the direct might think that you’re doing other work, like writing an email, not focusing on them, and it’s noisy.
    Referring to these notes can be also useful for conducting official performance reviews, as it documents the topics and progress.
  • You’re not their therapist — you do listen, support and suggest solutions when needed, and yet, the 1:1 is not a therapy session, even if you are a certified therapist, this is not your role in this constellation.
  • It cannot be 100% confidential. You need to keep things that are said in the room in the room, and create an environment where the direct feels safe.
    Exceptions are when the directs wants a topic to be handled in public, or you ask for their permission, or when things will have effect on the team or plans, for example, not assigning a new project to a direct that declared their wish to take a one year sabbatical, or reporting about illegal behavior.
  • For documenting the 1:1 topics, it’s possible to use pen and paper, a designated tools, or a shared online document.
    I’ve been using a shared google document per direct for the past years, where we have the date, direct’s topic and my topics.
  • When management lines change, the contents of the 1:1 are NOT shared with the new manager. As said, they are kept in the room.


  • Topics you had noticed during the week and decided not to address on the moment
  • Proactively follow up on previous questions, action items and tasks
  • Give feedback, positive and negative (I will write about it in the future)
  • Purpose — align on company mission, team goals and OKRs
  • Give interpretation, heads-up or updates (industry, team, company, people, technology, business)
  • Check-in on the direct’s IDP, their individual development plan (I will write about it in the future)
  • Seek mastery, growth or coaching opportunities — specific gaps that would help the direct
  • Talk about their inner motivation
  • Talk about team dynamics and stakeholders
  • Talk about tactical challenges and ideas to resolve
  • Push down work
  • Allow direct to vent, acknowledge their frustration and check whether help is required

Questions are an effective way to get information and to start conversations about various topics. Open ended questions are better than a discussion-closing “yes/no” or a number answer.

For example:

  • How do you like to be praised? (In public or private?)
  • What was your level of interest this week between 1 and 10?
    Then ask to elaborate.
  • What can I do to help you?
  • How can I support you to be more effective?
  • What has frustrated you in the last week?
  • What do you like to do more that you’re not doing, or less of that you are doing?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What obstacles do you currently have?
  • What was the best moment in the past week?
  • When you want to get into the details of a specific topic, do not ask generic “how is it going” — the answer is usually “fine” (same as asking a child “how was your day at school”). Rather ask specific questions, like what is the next milestone, what obstacle is holding us back.

The “Coaching Habit” book suggests to have a “set” of questions:

  1. What’s on your mind?
  2. And what else?
  3. What’s the real challenge for you there?
  4. What do you want? (to do/achieve/prevent)
  5. How can I help?
  6. What are you saying “no” to?
  7. What was most useful for you in our conversation?


What is trust anyway?

First 1:1 with a new direct

What if my direct refuses or avoids?

  1. Explain the direct the purpose of the meeting
  2. They must show up for the meeting, otherwise give negative feedback
  3. Keep showing up on time with agenda and follow up
  4. Ask questions
  5. Repeat, persist. This can sometimes take months

I never did 1:1, how to start?

What if my direct takes up the whole time?


The Effective Manager book by Mark Horstman, Manager Tools

The Coaching Habit book

The Culture Map book

Now test yourself

Call for action



Happily programming since 1984

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