1 to 1s

I haven’t had a career full of great experiences of being managed and coached.

I’ve worked with lots of brilliant people. But a good manager is not something I’ve commonly experienced. And when I have had good managers they weren’t in similar professions or did similar work.

I’m currently leading and managing a team of 13. So when it’s come to trying to be a good manager there wasn’t a limitless well to go to of examples.

Of what good management or coaching I’ve experienced, I have felt like people had time for me. And had my back. And this is something I want everyone to feel.

We have things like Kanban boards, slack channels and weekly huddles. But the 1 to 1 has been the most useful tool.

Thinking about my experience of “being managed” in other teams, 1 to 1s often felt like boxes to tick. Or a scrambled meeting to be fit in very busy diaries. Or they are done so infrequently that there’s too much to say, so nothing valuable is said at all.

Talking to and reading other people’s experiences of managing/being managed, something that was vital was the feeling that the time was important to the manager. That it was dedicated time. More important than the latest part of a service that was on fire.

This is the experience I wanted for my team. Reflecting on how I wanted my team to feel about 1 to 1s with me, I wanted the team to feel:

  • I was engaged
  • That this time was more important than any other thing
  • That I would be honest, realistic and open
  • That they could raise anything to me. Even about me

But you can’t just ask the question and expect the answers to flow. To get a process right, I made sure to:

  • Talk to others and look at people’s blogs about 1 to 1s
  • Starting with a few people then growing each week
  • Build in the process a way for the team to shape the agenda not me
  • Have some saved questions. So when something was asked or raised I had ways of coaching. And when nothing was directly raised I could check in on their work and happiness
  • Write a log of my meetings to see what worked and what did not

The 1 to 1s have been really rewarding. And important to unblocking issues and getting things done.

I have found out lots of new things about my team. And issues have been raised that wouldn’t have.

People who I would have said weren’t ambitious or wanted to do more. Had raised hunger. Juniors who I thought wanted more experience in a particular role, wanted experience in another area.

I look forward to my 1 to 1s with the team. And from the feedback I’ve got, they do too.

If you’re managing or leading a team. Approach your 1 to 1 process like you would any design.

If you don’t directly manage someone but have a position of seniority or leadership. Bring them in as part of your routine project work.

If you’re new to management. Start with 1 to 1s.

1 to 1s work if you do the work. Give them the focus they and your team deserve. And don’t be afraid to get things wrong and the change them.

Related stuff

Some things I read that were useful:

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