My Approach to 1:1s

I previously posted the one meeting vital to building trust, which covers the importance I see in 1:1's. The natural question coming out of that post would be, that is all great so how would I get started? What would a successful 1:1 look like?

When I think back on my career of being managed there is a pretty clear distinction about what made a good boss and what made a bad boss. The biggest differences were the touch points and general interest in me as an individual and employee. These touchpoints should be consistent and focused on the individual.

There is no single way to run a 1:1 and below is simply a format that I follow today. If you are holding these meetings consistently and focusing on your direct support then you are already building trust.

Today when I prepare for 1:1's I use a three part format. The agenda, the discussion, and the actions. I will dive into each of these in more detail.

The Agenda

In my ideal world my direct support would come into a 1:1 with an agenda of their own and drive the conversation. In reality though this is not generally the case. The agenda is where I identify items that fall into a few different categories.


These items are generally items that this person needs a reminder on. They are usually things that are HR related or driven by other internal responsibilities.

  • Did you remember to take that training that was required?
  • Have you taken some time to think about or fill out that feedback request I sent?
  • Could you please submit our input on your performance review by the end of the week?


This is where plans developed in previous career conversations can be revisited. It is a good idea to also dive into what this individual is doing to expand their professional skill-set and abilities on a regular cadence. Some questions that can help are.

  • Have you setup time with so and so to talk further about understanding the architecture of our notifications platform?
  • Are the career goals we talked through previously still relevant or are there new opportunities or interests you are starting to pursue?

Feedback and Recognition

This can be the hardest part of the agenda to curate as a manager. It is also one of the most important. It requires dedicated and intentional time to find, notice, and clarify the feedback you want to provide.

When I think about feedback for an individual I focus on finding recognition far more often than I find critical feedback to delivery. At the very least I would recommend looking to find one positive piece of feedback to provide to the individual you are talking to. If you cannot, that is likely a good sign that you have to think a little harder and start providing better, more constructive feedback for this individual.

The Discussion

The discussion is what happens when your 1:1 starts. I find it really easy to get into the flow by just using small talk with the individual or trying to learn something new about them. This is your opportunity to build a personal connection with this individual. Pay attention, really listen, and learn about your team. These items help to bond you and also help you seed conversations and check-ins in the future.

Once any initial conversation has run it's course there are three question that I almost always use.

What has been on your mind lately? - This question is open-ended enough to get someone thinking and almost always helps the individual jump into what has actually been on their mind, their own agenda, or questions that they need answered.

What else has been on your mind? - This is round two of the first question you asked. It seems almost too simple, however it does tend to have the same impact to drive conversation. It remains open-ended for the individual to drive the conversation and helps you get out of the way.

What do you need from me or what can I help you with? - When I am getting close to ending the conversation I really like to try to remember to close with this question. I don't tend to hear about things that I can help with, however I think it is important to provide that opportunity for the individual to give you insight into something they are struggling with that they could use your help with.

The questions above are taken, almost verbatim from The Coaching Habit by Michael Bungay Stanier. As I evolve my process I will likely start adding more of his list of seven coaching question. You can read about them here or listen to them on this Coaching for Leaders podcast here.

The Actions

These are items that require some work coming out of a 1:1. They could come in different forms and what I generally surface are the blockers that I can help with or agreed upon accountability items that came out of the conversation.

These are also great to revisit on your next 1:1 and potentially become new agenda items.

Brett McCarty

Brett McCarty