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17 / Teach your team to run great one-on-one (1:1) meetings

March 26, 2023
Two rebel lemurs conducting a 1:1 as they plan the attack on the Death Star.

Welcome to Issue #17!

Many of my coaching conversations start with a client wanting to explore what they frame as a performance issue with an employee. But if we haven’t been working together for long, I quickly discover that my client and the employee in question either aren’t doing 1:1 meetings or they’re doing them poorly. 1:1 meetings, when done well, are to a great working relationship as diet and exercise are to long-term health. You can limp along for quite a while without eating well or exercising, but let it go for too long, and you’ll be in the doctor’s office often.

So this week’s issue is all about 1:1s. For a long time now, I’ve wanted to create a mini-course or training I could facilitate to teach my clients how to run great 1:1s and teach and train their teams on how to do the same. And in this issue, that’s what I’ve done. You’ll find a text-based FAQ and a slide deck you’re welcome to use to train your team.

A Question

“Is everyone on my team focused and productive? If not, is there something I could be doing differently?”

—Erika Andersen, Learning to Learn

A Quote

“Those who make the most of meetings frequently spend substantially more time preparing for the meeting than in the meeting itself.”

—Jim Collins, The Effective Executive

Big Idea #17: Teach Your Team to Run Great 1:1s

View the entire presentation on SlideShare here.

Most people either don’t have 1:1s with their manager or their 1:1s are a poor use of time. When done right, a 1:1 can be a huge source of leverage for the manager and a terrific use of time for a subordinate to manage up, get feedback, learn, and get unblocked.

I've now taught countless founders how to run great 1:1s, and they all inevitably ask if I have any resources to then help them teach their team how to do the same. While there are terrific resources out there, I've always wanted to create a single resource in document and slide form for companies to use. And this week, I broke down and made it. So here it is! You can click the link above to view the SlideShare version, and below you'll find a more detailed text version. Feel free to copy this, add, subtract, and train your teams!

What is a 1:1?

  • A meeting
  • Between a subordinate and a manager.
  • Usually recurring, most commonly every week, but can be as infrequent as every month

What are the goals of a 1:1?

  • To guarantee a dedicated space for a subordinate and manager to communicate on a regular basis.
  • For a manager to collect and convey information.
  • For a subordinate to collect and convey information.
  • To reduce reactivity and promote proactivity.

Why are 1:1s good for the organization, the manager, and the subordinate?

  • Information is the lifeblood of an organization. Without the free flow of information in an organization, a company will not be able to function effectively.
  • It is the responsibility of a subordinate to manage up to their manager, and a 1:1 is a terrific forum to do so.
  • They are high leverage for managers (60-90 mins of a manager’s time can enhance quality of a subordinate’s work for weeks).
  • When both manager and subordinate know they have an upcoming meeting, they can add items to an agenda for discussion instead of constantly interrupting one another via Slack for non-urgent issues.

How often should you have a 1:1?

  • Start with every week, and if that feels like too often, hold them less frequently.
  • Andy Grove recommends managers assess what he calls “task-relevant maturity (”TRM”).” If an employee has high task-relevant (or job-relevant) maturity, 1:1s can be less frequent. Note that TRM is not the same as experience in years or age, but rather a measure of experience with specific work and prior performance.
  • If the subordinate is tight on time in a particular week or feeling stretched, stick to the schedule but reduce the scope (e.g. have a 30 minute 1:1 instead of a 60 minute one). Fill out your running agenda doc., meet, but have a shorter 1:1. This way you and your manager will get the most essential information at the very least.

How long should a 1:1 last?

  • I recommend 60 minutes minimum.
  • Andy Grove recommends, “Enough time to broach and get into thorny issues.”
  • 15, 30 and even 45 minutes are too short. In my experience, the 15 minutes are a sort of warm-up, and usually the thorniest issues come up after 30 minutes.
  • I have a preference for longer 1:1s less often than frequent short 1:1s.

Who owns the meeting’s agenda?

  • Subordinate.
  • Why? A manager might have 8 direct reports. That might be 8 hours of 1:1s + 4 hours of prep (30 mins each) = 12 hours just for 1:1s. Skip the prep and it’s only 8. Vs. the subordinate has 1 1:1 + 30 mins of prep = 1.5 hours.

Preparing for a 1:1

  • The subordinate should own a “running agenda document.” This can be a spreadsheet, Google Doc, Notion Doc, etc. The most important thing is that it is shared and added to in-between 1:1s. For example, if you do yours in Notion, both you and your manager should be shared on the doc (or Database/Folder of docs) and when you realize you want to speak with your manager about any issue that isn’t urgent, you add it to the agenda for your next 1:1, that way you don’t forget to bring it up and you also don’t interrupt your manager with something that could have waited.

What should be covered?

  • Brief Status Report: Present progress on goals, KPIs, and action items from your last 1:1. Present these in a consistent format each week. Each manager has specific information needs. If your manager has not asked you for a list of information in each 1:1, then you need to ask them what information they’d like you to provide in each 1:1. Subordinates need to report on goals and KPIs, but make sure not to turn the 1:1 into one giant status report. You can avoid this by presenting KPIs and the status of goals in a consistent format and limiting this part of the 1:1 to 5-10 minutes.
  • Issues: Present any potential problems you foresee or may be stuck on. Make sure to emphasize any indications that any of your KPIs or goals could be headed for trouble, as your manager can help you troubleshoot. This can include projects, tasks, difficulties working with others, and more.
  • Beware Gossip: Many "issues" at a company involve people. And it's easy for a 1:1 to turn into a gossip session. What is gossip? "Any statement about another made by someone with negative intent…" or "any statement about another that the speaker would be unwilling to share in exactly the same way if that person were in the same room." Remember, it takes two to tango with gossip: a speaker and a listener. I always think of this quote from The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership, "Many people choose to listen to gossip to avoid the discomfort of establishing a boundary."
  • Questions: If you have any questions, this is the forum to raise them. Not sure how your work ladders up to the company’s objectives? Ask about that here. Wondering what it takes to get a raise? Ask about that here. Are you unclear about how you’ll be evaluated in a performance review? Ask about that here.
  • Performance: Always, always, always use your 1:1 with your manager to solicit feedback on your performance. I recommend asking your manager how they would rate you on a performance review this week if you were to conduct one on a 1-5 scale (1 is abysmal, 3 being “meets expectations” and 5 being “exceptional performance”). Always ask what you could do to move their rating from a lower number to a higher number. If you want to be a PRO here, create a rubric like this and use it to facilitate this discussion in each 1:1 (or at the end of each month).
  • Feedback: In each 1:1, both the manager and subordinate should give each other feedback, even if it’s small, to develop the “muscle” of giving feedback and keeping the flow of information going. I recommend each person communicate one thing that they’d like the other person to keep doing and one thing they can improve each week.

What is the role of the supervisor / manager?

  • The manager’s job is mainly to listen, collect information, learn, and to coach their subordinate through any issues they raise in addition to issuing guidance on behavior change if necessary.
  • It is also the manager’s job to train their people on how to run great 1:1s!
  • Andy Grove put it this way: “Facilitate subordinate’s expression of what’s going on and what’s bothering him.”
  • The 1:1 is a terrific tool for managers to monitor performance against goals.
  • Managers need to make it clear to each of their direct reports what information they’d like to see in the status report section of the 1:1 each week.

Hoo Boy, indeed.

Source Material & Further Reading

  1. Grove, Andy. High Output Management.
  2. Scott, Kim. Radical Candor.
  3. Mochary, Matt. The Great CEO Within.
  4. Meyer, Faith. Job Responsibilities Rubric.
  5. Kline, Dave. Expectations Template.
  6. Batista, Ed. Group Dynamics: A Leader’s Toolkit.
  7. Dethmer, Jim; Chapman, Diana; Klemp, Kaley. The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership.
  8. Evanish, Jason. 150+ One on One Meeting Questions Great Managers Ask.

Reads & Resources


Ed Batista, whose work I so frequently recommend here, wrote a terrific piece on what most of us would call “managing up.” He argues that the act of “managing” up often lacks empathy. Ed’s essay explores our relationships with those who have power over us and empathy itself. “…the expression of empathy involves not only comprehending another person’s perspective and emotions, but also suspending our own judgments.” Regardless of whether you’re the boss, Ed makes a great point: “we can all strive to cultivate a more empathetic response in general.”

From Twitter

In 1993, Freeman Dyson wrote: “Scientific revolutions are more often driven by new tools than concepts.” And I think it’s now fair to say we’re in the early days of a new tool-driven revolution, the effect of which Dyson wrote: “is to discover new things that have to be explained.” But don’t take my word for it. This week, Bill Gates declared AI is “the most revolutionary technology in decades,” on par with “the microprocessor, the personal computer, the Internet, and the mobile phone.” This short excerpt is a beautiful perspective in fast-changing moments like these. Hat tip to Steven Sinofsky for this one.


If you grew up with a Nintendo product in your house, it’s hard to think of a company more beloved and impactful on a generation of kids’ imaginations and interest in the world of bits. But did you know the company was founded in 1889—ninety-two years before Donkey Kong—to produce handmade playing cards? In what might be one of their best episodes yet, Ben & David at Acquired tell the entire history of Nintendo in a mind-bending 3.5-hour episode. If you grew up loving Nintendo, are curious about stories of game-changing businesses, or want to listen to a great story, this is for you.


I’ve been waiting for this book to come out since its author, Claire Hughes Johnson, announced it was coming. Claire was the COO at Stripe from 2014 - 2021 and remains a corporate officer and advisor. She also sits on the boards of HubSpot and The Atlantic and even worked on self-driving cars for Google in 2014. Scaling people is a 400+ page tome of “tactics for management and company building.” It’s chock-full of practical advice and helpful stories. My favorite part, though, as a former book publisher, is that Stripe chose to go with QR code footnotes.

Dice Roll

The Fair Play Deck is an accompaniment to Fair Play, a book for couples to use to divide household tasks. So, if you struggle to do this with your spouse or partner, buy it. Second, the deck immediately got me thinking about how something like this could be helpful for co-founders and teams. Imagine having a deck of cards with most of a company's significant ownership areas: engineering, sales, marketing, design, finance, and so on. And you sit with your co-founders or management team, and each card can only have one owner. I love the idea, and I wish someone would make it.

That’s all for this week. I’m looking forward to what’s next!