Organizational Tips on How to Hold One-on-one Meetings [Agenda Templates]

In this article, we’ll give useful tips for engineering managers on how to run effective 1:1 meetings with a software development team to skyrocket their performance.
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Today, tech startups and large companies are rapidly optimizing costs and choosing remote work. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to work on processes to develop and improve communication between managers and employees. One of the tools that will help is one-on-one meetings.

In this article, we’ll explain why it’s important to have one-on-one meetings and give tips for engineering managers on how to organize and conduct them so that they benefit both developers and the tech company.

What is a one-on-one meeting and why is it crucial for an engineering team?

A one-on-one meeting is a scheduled conversation between the head of the department and the employee. It helps in onboarding, fostering effective teamwork, collecting feedback, and brainstorming avenues for professional growth. It can also improve the employee’s mood, increase their motivation, and keep them happy and productive!

Let's take a closer look at why one-on-one meetings are important:

  • Increase work efficiency. You and your software engineers can figure out complicated tasks together. You can help find answers to questions preventing them from progressing on the project; guide them toward faster, more effective solutions; and even inspire them to explore novel ways of tackling problems.
  • Improve relationships. One-on-one meetings can raise the employee’s spirits if they feel that the manager sincerely wants to listen to them. Empathy and caring help promote a friendly relationship between the employee and the manager.
  • Develop software engineers professionally. At one-on-one meetings, you can ask the employee how they want to grow and develop both personally and professionally. You might also discover that the employee has personal traits that even they weren’t previously aware of. For example, does the employee seem to have a knack for leadership? Or do they seem more introverted? Finding out such personal traits will help you make timely decisions about assigning or canceling tasks, or even changing the employee’s position in the company.
  • Prevent disaster. Usually, everyone except the boss knows about team conflicts. At one-on-one meetings, you can gently clarify who is toxic in the team and maybe even who might be on the brink of quitting. Such knowledge can help you more swiftly resolve conflicts and prevent minor issues from growing and eventually exploding.

Needless to say, one-on-one conversations can promote overall business growth. They help the manager immerse themselves in the company's processes and culture rather than simply managing everyone from above. This is a chance for them to get up close and learn things they would never have learned from the “top.” In a safe, honest, and transparent environment, it’s easier to work on business metrics and create a high-performance team.

How to schedule a one-on-one?

Try to avoid making one-on-one meetings spontaneous. Why? Because both you and the employee need to prepare! Tell them about the meeting at least 3-4 days in advance. Write an email for the employee.

Here's what to include in this email:

  • The date and time of the meeting — do not oblige, but allow them to suggest a better schedule if necessary.
  • Reason for the meeting — why it will be useful for the employee.
  • The topic of the meeting and sample questions — this will minimize any potential anxiety and give the employee time to think about the agenda.
  • Tasks — what information to prepare for the meeting.

Again, the letter should sound like an invitation, not a commitment. Keep your tone friendly.

Example of a one-on-one meeting invitation:

Hi Kate,
It's time for a one-on-one performance review meeting! We’ll talk about how things are with the current projects and take a look at the main metrics. We’ll also discuss your achievements and growth.
Please prepare a list of current tasks that cause difficulties and seem unsolvable to you.
I’d be glad to meet in the meeting room on June 25 at 2pm. Your calendar shows that this slot is free, but feel free to suggest a better time if you prefer!
See you!

The time you take to write will be time well spent! It’s absolutely critical because it can help prevent schedule disruptions or awkward silences that might have happened had the employee been ill-prepared.

Think that writing a letter will take a lot of time? Don’t, because it really doesn’t have to. A simple letter that sets out the agenda and offers a date and time should take maybe five minutes or less. It doesn’t have to be complicated!

Holding a one-on-one meeting — where and when?

Best place

The best place for a one-on-one meeting is a private and quiet place. Open spaces aren’t good. You and the employee will be distracted, and it might be difficult to relax and speak candidly. (And speaking of the tone of a conversation, there’s no need to speak with an air of “officialdom” — that will only cause unnecessary stress.)

You can have a one-on-one meeting in-person or online. If it’s virtual, be sure to use the camera so that everyone can see everyone else’s facial expressions and get a sense of their emotions. After all, lots of communication is non-verbal.

Best time

As mentioned, be sure to make an appointment in advance so that the employee isn’t surprised or overly inconvenienced. Furthermore, don’t schedule the one-on-one meeting for after work. That would infringe on the employee’s personal time and they may resent you.

According to a study on developers’ productivity, engineers can be roughly categorized into three groups depending on their circadian rhythm: morning person, afternoon person, and low-at-lunch person.

Depending on the type, some hours are considered by an engineer as more productive for coding. So it might be a bad idea to disrupt employees during their peak hours. So, you can find out what types your engineers belong to and make a personalized meeting schedule for more effective conversation without interfering with their productivity.

How often?

The frequency of one-on-one meetings depends on the working cycle of your engineering team. The main types of meetings a manager should run on a regular basis are:

  • Weekly one-on-one meetings
  • Monthly one-on-one meetings
  • OKR-setting one-on-one meetings
  • Biannual performance review one-on-one meetings
  • Mentor mentee one-on-one meetings

Aside from recurring meetings, here are some other important kinds of one-on-one meetings:

  • Onboarding meetings
  • Skip level and salary review one-on-one meeting
  • Exit one-on-one meeting
Use Vectorly’s library with 1-on-1 meeting templates with a set of questions for any occasion to save your prep time.

How to start a one-on-one? Break the ice!

Before you start getting serious in discussing important tasks and KPIs and looking for everything that went wrong, lighten the mood and break the ice!

Without prying into the employee’s personal life, ask a few open-ended questions that you might ask a colleague and friend in everyday life. Try to get more creative than just a boring “”How are you?,” though.

So, how to break the ice during one-on-one meeting:

What do you think about coming to work when you wake up every morning?
What do you like most about your job?
How is it to work with newcomers?
How was today's meeting with your client?
What did you like most about our colleague meeting last Saturday?

An agenda for a one-on-one meeting

During the one-on-one meeting, cluster the questions into several blocks. (Obviously, it will be helpful to have this agenda planned beforehand!) This will keep the dialogue structured and facilitate a smoother conversation.

Here’s what to talk about at a one-on-one meeting and in what order:

  • About the employee. It's worth starting with this. Ask how they usually feel when they come to work.
  • About tasks. What are their tasks now, what are their deadlines, and what are the problems?
  • About motivation. Clarify what inspires the employee, how they want to develop, and what they see as beneficial for the business. If they find it difficult to answer, help them discern what would be a good motivator.
  • About the company. Here, you return the employee to the fact that they’re part of the company, that they’re part of the team. Share company news with them and ask what they think about it. Discuss your plans, and ask for their opinion about those plans. This way, the employee feels involved.
  • About management. Be careful with questions about employee attitudes toward management. They’ll probably find it uncomfortable to speak frankly. But the question, “What would you improve?” can be tremendously insightful. Knowing how satisfied the employee is with the workplace in general can be helpful as well.
  • About crises. If your business is going through hard times, don't keep it a secret. The employee will appreciate that you trust them. They may even be able to offer solutions to business problems because they have somewhat of an outsider, non-management perspective.

Nailing down all these different kinds of meeting topics can seem intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be, and Vectorly can help. It offers ready-made one-on-one meeting templates weekly meetings, monthly meetings, onboarding interviews, meetings aimed at prioritization and achieving quarterly goals, and more.

After the one-on-one

Record all agreements. Otherwise, the meeting might pass as a lengthy, useless conversation. It’s best if the employee structures their thoughts themselves and sends you a review of the meeting.

If their goals are too ambitious, you can suggest breaking the agreement into several iterations. And if your employee forgot to record something, simply draw their attention to the important missing point. It might be worth discussing further.

Key ideas

  • One-on-one meetings help employees feel more comfortable in the company. Managers can better understand the motivation and mood of the team, and the business accelerates its development.
  • A one-on-one meeting isn’t always a one-time event. For example, it can recur on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis.
  • A one-on-one meeting provides an opportunity for the manager to get closer with the employee, thereby perhaps boosting the employee’s loyalty to the company. Additionally, when there’s a positive working relationship, the manager is better poised to help the employee improve.
  • Start a one-on-one meeting with questions about the employee. They’ll feel that the meeting is in their interest, and not just in the interest of the company.
  • Make your one-on-one meeting as productive as possible using ready-made templates with blocks and questions.

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