TL;DR One of the ways your manager sucks. Poor quality 1–1s or maybe total lack of them.

TL;DR

Managers and leaders of every form and kind suck when they don’t do their job right. One of the most essential tasks they should always carry is regular 1–1s meetings with their direct reports. Unfortunately, often these meetings are not happening at all, or they become genuinely useless. That comes from the fact that these managers don’t understand the value of relationships, or maybe they do but don’t know how to make these meetings any better.

As a result, team members often don’t see the point in having them either. All they know are these shitty 1–1s focused on status updates and pointless conversations. Some people never even experienced 1–1s meetings of any kind.

If your boss doesn’t care about 1–1s, constantly postponing or cancelling, tell him he sucks and hand over your notice.

Misconceptions about 1–1s.

  • 1–1s are useless — Only if people involved have no clue why they do it, or the manager doesn’t care about his team.
  • 1–1s are not needed — Yes, they might feel like that when a company is in constant firefighting mode or people have experienced bad 1–1s in the past. It’s time to fix it, not run away from it.
  • It’s only an update — In many cases it is because people don’t understand it shouldn’t.
  • They are too often — It depends, but once a week or every 2 weeks is the sweet spot.
  • They are too long — Shouldn’t be longer than half an hour so keep it short, efficient and meaningful.
  • They are too short — Yeah, I saw managers setting them up for 10–15 minutes. What’s the point?
  • 1–1s are not necessary — Out of all meetings you have, 1–1s are probably the most important, if done well.
  • I have nothing to talk about — Sometimes it’s OK, but it shouldn’t be a regular thing.

I hope you get the point now. These meetings are essential to your growth, but I’m not going to try to convince you by creating a long list of bullet points to prove my point. Instead, I would rather focus on the negative impact of shitty 1–1s and how that reflects on managers, teams and the whole company.

What impact do these shitty or no 1–1s have, and why do managers fail at one of the most fundamental tasks of their role?

Because they are “only managers”, not leaders.
Order takers, order givers.

Managers miss an opportunity to bond with their team and forget that people are not machines, and every person, even the most hardcore introvert, needs conversation. Building relationships is one of the most critical skills in a leadership role. Doing it well with people they are responsible for is crucial in creating mental safety and high-performing teams.

Another negative side-effect of poor 1–1s is a team struggling to do their job and staying motivated in stressful moments. Since there are no authentic leadership or sense of trust, any task conflict often quickly escalates to personal conflict and creates a long-term impact on performance.

The worst way managers undermine the value of these meetings and relationships between them and team members is by constantly postponing or cancelling. It’s a clear message that everything else is a higher priority. This leads to frustration. The team feels they don’t have the support they need and can’t discuss important matters with a person whose role is to help them.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how senior the team is. We all need to be able to build rapport with the people we work with. It has to be a conscious and proactive effort. Great managers are leaders, and leaders are coaches who care about their team as a whole and as individuals.

The good tactics and rules for 1–1s.

  • Once a week, half an hour, no matter what.
    Although, I recently started thinking about one every 2 weeks.
  • 1–1s is the most important meeting.
    Constant postponing and cancelling sends a clear message that your manager doesn’t care about you (or the team) that much.
  • Don’t discuss projects. It’s not a status update meeting.
    Focus on struggles, challenges, growth and personal matters.
  • In times of stress, use them as an opportunity to ask for help.
  • Learn about your boss and let him learn about you. That’s what meaningful relationships are about.
  • Your manager should listen more than she talks.
  • If you have nothing to talk about, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have the meeting.
  • Your manager should drive the conversation.
    In no time, you will both learn it is a self-driving thing.
  • Change environment.
    Don’t get stuck in the formal office setting. Go for a walk, lunch, whatever.

To be clear, 1–1s are not a silver bullet that will solve all the problems, but there is a strong relationship between good 1–1s and highly performing teams. A leader is a coach first, and yet so many don’t understand that. Therefore, every 1–1 session is a coaching opportunity that will benefit both sides. Leaders must use this powerful tool to drive excellence.

Managers who really see the value in 1–1s and care about their teams will never be surprised with conflicts between team members, a notice on their desk, underperforming individuals, problems within projects or lack of trust within the group. They won’t, because they won’t have to!

Go and start taking 1–1s seriously.

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Software Engineering Changemaker. Driving digital transformation and sharing experiences and thoughts from my journey. 20 years and counting…

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Andrew Winnicki

Andrew Winnicki

Software Engineering Changemaker. Driving digital transformation and sharing experiences and thoughts from my journey. 20 years and counting…

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