Recurring 1x1 Questions

General principles

  • Conduct regular, recurring one on ones to support the reporting employee
  • Good one on ones are spent creating alignment, uncovering potential issues, and facilitating professional development
  • They should not be used to request or provide project updates
  • Because one on ones are for the benefit of the subordinate, the subordinate should own the agenda; however, because many subordinates struggle with this, the leader should be prepared with topics as well
  • When a subordinate raises concerns, many managers instinctively respond by offering advice or trying to solve their problem, and this often backfires.
  • Unless help is specifically requested, a better approach is for the manager to coach the subordinate to solve their own problems by practicing active listening, acknwledging and validating their concerns, and asking good open-ended questions to help the other person figure out their own problems. In addition to empowering the person, another benefit of this approach is the leader does not have to be the subject matter expert to be a good coach.
  • If the leader is regularly doing most of the talking, you’re not doing that well.
  • While framed here as manager-report, one on ones should not be limited to managers and their reports. There is tremendous value in peer-to-peer one on ones, skip level one on ones, and cross-team one on ones.
  • Share regular feedback on one on ones; don’t wait until a formal performance review. An employee should not be surprised by feedback received on a formal review. As a general principle, negative feedback only belongs on a formal review if it’s been shared multiple times on one on ones.
  • The best feedback is immediate and direct. See Be Kind, not Nice.
  • The best time to resolve a performance or behavioral problem is while it is a small annoyance, before it becomes big and painful

Request Feedback

  • Practice empathy. Seek to understand the other person’s viewpoint
  • Seek to learn how you can better support them
  • Seek to undestand how they view your own performance
  • Don’t be afraid to show vulnerability
  • Model authenticity by discussing your own struggles and weaknesses

Good 1x1 Questions

Generally, both parties should bring topics for the agenda for a one on one call, but that does not always happen. It’s helpful to have a list of open-ended questions to draw from to spark conversation during 1x1s.

Here are some I’ve found useful:

  • What do we need to add to our team roadmap that’s missing currently?
  • What do you want to do but don’t feel like you have the time for?
  • How can I best support you this week?
  • What is one thing we can improve in the team?
  • What’s frustrating you about your work these days?
  • What do you need from me to be successful?
  • What can I do better?
  • How do you feel about your current work-life balance, and is there anything we could adjust?
  • What skills do you want to develop?
  • What type of work do you enjoy most / What have you enjoyed most lately?
  • How do you feel about the feedback you’ve been receiving? How can it be improved?
  • What challenges are you facing with current projects?

Questions to ask your manager (or a skip-level)

  • What are your top priorities right now?
  • What do you spend most of your time thinking about these days?
  • What are the biggest challenges our team or department is facing, and how can I contribute to solving them?
  • How do you measure success for me / our team?

Copyright © 2023 Richard Morgan.