Eighty-six percent of employees stated that lack of effective collaboration and communication was the result of failures in their workplace. That’s a very large majority of people who feel that their communication systems within their team need an update—and now.
If you’re a new engineering manager looking to make sure your team doesn’t fall prey to this statistic, or if you’re just looking to improve communication across your engineering team, then you’ve come to the right place. Here, we’re discussing the importance of having effective one-on-one meetings with your direct reports and the ideal cadence to suit various employees’ needs.
- What is a one-on-one meeting?
- What to consider when booking engineering 1:1 meetings
- How often should engineers have 1:1 meetings?
What is a one-on-one meeting?
A one-on-one meeting (or 1:1) is a session for a manager and their direct report to catch up on topics related to the direct report’s role and responsibilities. The time can be used to support projects, ideate to overcome blockers, and discuss the direct report’s career trajectory at the company. Typically, one-on-one meetings last an hour or less, but their length varies depending on the direct report’s role. The frequency of this meeting also varies depending on the complexity of the role and the seniority and experience of the person who is taking on the responsibilities.
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What to consider when booking engineering 1:1 meetings
1The why behind meeting
“None of us could articulate well why we were doing 1:1s except through some hand wavy and gut feely kind of way. So, the first thing we set out to resolve was an answer as to why we do them at all.” – Simon Nadav Cohen from Spotify
Simon’s message is a clear reminder of setting a valuable purpose for each meeting. Is the purpose of your one-on-one to track project progress, solve blockers together, or catch up on something else? Regardless of your reason, having alignment on the purpose will help guide you to choose a frequency that is most suitable, and it also ensures that you make the most of this valuable meeting time!
2The place and time
If your company operates remotely or in a hybrid work environment, this factor is especially important. Having a consistent place for the meeting to occur makes it more efficient to prepare for the meeting and build a routine around it.
For remote workers, getting alignment on the video communication tool you use (for example, Slack, Zoom, Google Meet, Skype) is how you determine your “meeting place.” For hybrid workers, you might seek a time or place that is consistent, like a day that you are both most likely to be working virtually or in the office. Frequently switching the environment of your one-on-one meeting can negatively affect the routine and flow, which then affects your ability to plan, communicate, and progress through meeting topic ideas effectively.
3The meeting template
Consistency in your meetings can also be achieved through the use of a meeting template. Using a template ensures that you cover all of your bases in each meeting and no important topic gets forgotten. Fellow even has you covered with some great one-on-one meeting templates!
With a meeting management tool like Fellow, you can integrate your templates into your regular meetings so it’s easy to plan and manage your meetings. Remember that using a template doesn’t lock you into a specific structure for your meeting; it’s up to you and your direct report to adjust the structure as needed. Having a base template to work with just provides you with a benchmark, so you achieve at least some level of consistency throughout your regular check-ins.
How often should engineers have 1:1 meetings?
- This is the most popular cadence.
- Weekly meetings allow you to check in on problems and tackle blockers as they arise, so solutions are created and employed faster—this is great for developers covering quality assurance (QA) or bug and security patches.
- If your direct report is working on highly complex or high-risk projects, this cadence gives you a good opportunity to ensure the project is always on the right track.
- This cadence gives you an opportunity to work closely with junior-level developers or those who are new to the team, with the possibility to do code review together or provide constructive feedback on recent projects.
- A manager can build a strong working relationship with their direct reports.
- If your developer is working on slower projects (like site maintenance work), there may not always be valuable updates, which puts you at risk of wasting your time in unnecessary meetings.
- Very frequent meetings can make the employee feel like they are being watched too closely, which may not be appealing for more experienced employees.
- This cadence allows enough time to build up a sufficient meeting agenda for a full hour of discussion time while also enabling you to tackle problems quickly.
- Biweekly 1:1s provide enough time between meetings for your employee to get a good start on action items from previous meetings (allowing you to measure progress or give new directions as needed).
- If there is additional time in the meeting, you can use it for code review or feedback on other projects to use the time productively without wasting the time together.
- If urgent issues arise, they cannot wait up to two weeks for a solution, so an incident response manager or other support will need to be available to help remediate.
- Senior or executive-level employees may feel micromanaged if they have to check in with their manager so frequently.
- There is lots of time between meetings for the employee to have significant progress on action items, which is great for measuring their progress.
- This cadence is a great option for senior-level employees who like to be more independent within their roles.
- Monthly one-on-ones grant the opportunity for employees to self-resolve urgent issues as they arise between monthly meetings (but you can still use the meeting to discuss the learnings from these self-resolution situations).
- This cadence requires both parties to think critically about important meeting topics and begin to prioritize specific problems.
- This frequency is ideal for slow projects or roles that do not have significant updates or change on a regular basis.
- There is less communication frequency between the employee and manager, and therefore less of an opportunity to build trust and rapport.
- There isn’t sufficient time to actively review code or QA projects together, so employees who need the extra feedback won’t receive it.
- There are fewer opportunities to provide praise or recognition to employees who are in need of the additional psychological support from their manager.
- If a developer is working on a high-risk project or experimenting within their work (for example, testing a new way to patch bugs on production), this frequency may not be enough to have the guidance or supervision the employee needs for the project.
- This frequency is ideal for executive-level employees who are on very busy schedules.
- Less frequent meetings means that only the highest-priority items will be discussed, and lower-priority items can be resolved separately or on their own.
- It is likely that the meeting time will be dedicated to a very narrow, specific focus so the time will be well spent (which is great for strategic initiatives or budget planning).
- This cadence requires a lot of pre-established trust and alignment between the manager and their direct report.
- There are fewer opportunities to build trust and rapport between the manager and employee.
- Problems may go unknown for months, which can put a career or project at high risk for negative consequences (for example, an employee’s career is not headed in the right direction or they missed an opportunity to take on an open position within the team).
- There is a possibility that strategic projects get forgotten about if they’re not followed up on (for example, “What happened to that security program that was supposed to start 2 months ago?”).
“Cadence and regularity are key in these meetings. Book them in at the same time and place each week and commit to them. Do not move them unless absolutely necessary. Having a scheduled regular touchpoint with your direct reports brings a predictability into your relationship and shows that you care about being there for them week in, week out.” – James Stanier
As you work with your team, you’ll build a cadence that is right for your needs. While working through this process, remember that the complexity of your direct report’s role and the seniority level or experience your employee has will greatly impact the frequency that is right for them. It’s typical to have different frequencies for different direct reports. And as your direct reports progress throughout their careers, these needs may change again. Being constantly aware of how much value you’re pulling from each meeting and how frequently your projects change will help you navigate finding a one-on-one cadence that works best for you and your engineering team members.