One-on-one meetings are one of the most powerful tools you have for driving alignment in your company. The problem is that most companies don’t prioritize them.
For example, in one of my roles at a gaming start-up, I would travel to and from work together with my manager. Our best conversations about the business happened during these hours. Free from the day-to-day restraints of the office environment, we were free to brainstorm and dream about what the company could be, and how we could get there. We were looking at the big picture, and I could clearly see my role in it.
And then we moved office, and these talks just… stopped. No more commute, no more one-on-ones with my manager.
Slowly but surely, I lost touch with the bigger picture for the company, and my own role in it. I wasn’t as enthousiastic as I was before, and I eventually moved on from that role. Had the commute talks been replaced by regular one-on-one meetings, I’m convinced it would have made a difference.
And as valuable as one-to-one meetings are in any industry, they’re especially important in the fast-paced world of videogame development. These regular check-ins offer an opportunity to connect with team members on a personal level, gather feedback, and ensure everyone is (and stays!) on the same page.
The question, then, is how to have productive and effective one-on-one meetings with your reports that make the most of the time you set apart for them. Here’s a blueprint that will get you started.
Frequency and Length
One-on-one meetings should be a priority and held regularly, preferably once a week. Ideally, these last for 60 minutes, but this can vary depending on the number of reports. Radical Candor author Kim Scott suggests that the commitment to one-on-one meetings should form a natural bottleneck for the amount of reports you can have. If you’re starting to feel like you have too many meetings, you have too many reports. In that case, consider cutting back to 25-minute meetings every two weeks.
The agenda for each meeting should be set by the report. The goal is to keep things light and focused on building a relationship. Avoid diving too deeply into work-related topics, as the focus should be on checking in with the person, not the work.
As the manager, your role in one-on-one meetings is to give and receive feedback. One way to structure these conversations is to ask CEO coach Matt Mochary’s “Five Magic Questions”:
- How are you feeling about your life at work?
- How are you feeling about your work-from-home setup?
- How are we performing as a company?
- What is it like to work with the rest of the team?
- What is it like to work with me?
For each question, follow up by asking: “What would get it to the next level?” This helps keep the conversation focused on continuous improvement and growth.
While one-on-one meetings are generally a positive experience, there are some red flags to look out for.
- If a report starts cancelling meetings frequently, it may indicate they don’t feel it’s worth their time.
- If the meeting consists of updates that could have easily been sent in an email, encourage them to use their time more constructively.
- If the report only shares good news, ask explicitly for the bad news as well.
- If there’s no criticism, ask: “What should I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?”
- And finally, if there’s no agenda, it’s important to ask why, and emphasize the report’s responsibility in making the most of this time.
Done well, one-on-one meetings are a critical part of building a strong, healthy team. By taking the time to check in with each person, gather feedback, and address any red flags, you can ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards a common goal.
If you made it this far, consider subscribing to my newsletter. You’ll be the first to hear about new essays!