When I took ownership of my one-on-ones with my manager, I searched for a 1:1 template, and most of the things I found did not suit me. As a software engineer, I found most of the templates were focused on the manager's perspective. However, since I am the facilitator of the meeting, I picked the best parts from multiple templates and adjusted them according to the software engineer's perspective.
After using a new template for months, I can say that it was a game-changer. Now, I join my one-on-ones in a full-ready mode. My manager and I understand each other better, and no topic can slip away from our minds (and from the agenda).
After turning the meeting around, making the meeting more beneficial for the manager was also a question in my mind. Yes, the meeting is about me; however, my manager should also have a place to talk with me about their essential topics. So, we decided that we both write into our document and fill the template, not only me.
Useful Template That Everyone Writes
Templates on the internet are often for one side only; managers and engineers use their templates separately. However, we have only one shared document. The most valuable part of it is that we both write into the same doc. Currently, we're on a bi-weekly schedule for our meetings. During every two weeks, we both write whatever comes to our mind without waiting for the meeting.
We use Confluence from Atlassian. Confluence sends notifications whenever someone publishes a new version of your document. Writing in between meetings and getting notified helps us to realize some topics that require our attention. For example, some time ago, I wanted to talk about something bothering me in the company, and I saw that my manager added the same topic to the document. Therefore, I waited for our meeting instead of writing a Slack message to discuss the case we needed to talk about over a call.
We created a shared document where both sides can contribute. The template forces both sides to focus on the engineer's issues and growth, not the projects' status. Keeping the history in one file helps track previous topics, action items, and learnings, which will become advantageous in the yearly performance review. Having one document will also help to follow-up action items and priorities.
DO THIS: Right after the 1:1 meeting, create a new table on top of the shared document. You can copy-paste the table template from the previous week (don't forget to clean the content).
Template for Remote and On-site 1:1—Content
Using the template might seem a lot of work. On the contrary, it is compact and we don't need to fill all of the sections. We use whatever necessary and leave the other parts empty. This flexible strategy is what makes the process easy and adaptable.
Now, let's talk about the template and how to use each section.
1. Things we should talk about
This section is the central driving part and the agenda. We write items into this section during the week whenever something happens. Since we both see what the other person wants to talk about, there is no surprise to anyone, and we're focused.
We sometimes write only the topic, sometimes a little bit bigger note with a couple of sentences. Writing complete sentences clears the message so that the other side won't have big questions in mind and doesn't need to spend some time trying to understand a vague topic. For example, if the manager writes "Salary adjustment" or "unsatisfying work on project X," often a brief explanation and small details follow up. Thus, the engineer doesn't get stressed.
At the same time, we keep it brief and don't write ten topics. A maximum of three bullet points are achievable in thirty minutes, and less is better. The time is limited and using it most beneficially is crucial.
DO THIS: Write whatever comes to your mind during the week, don't limit yourself. Right before the meeting, go over the points and eliminate (or postpone) the low priority topics. Have a maximum of three subjects, and less is better.
2. Things that went well
One-on-one meetings often focus on challenges, concerns, or uncomfortable things. Tendency to forget to mention good points hurts appreciation and job satisfaction. This is why we keep this section, and most often, we use it to show gratitude and identify achievements.
Managers also don't get much thankfulness. It's frustrating to constantly deal with never-ending-problems while no one is saying a good thing often. After having this section, I realized that my manager is doing a good job. This section forces the engineer to reflect on what the manager has been working on.
Even though our expertise or competency is paying our salary, we learn things every single day. If not, then there is a big problem. We use this section to write down the top one-to-three learnings. When there is no item here for over a time, the manager can identify the problem, and we can talk about why there is no learning. If the manager misses this, the engineer can also name the problem and ask for opportunities to learn.
Feedback is the most critical mechanism for humans to grow. Our lives are packed with small feedbacks. Each PR (pull request) review comment and failed tests are feedback that we need to perform better. While we receive and provide extensive feedback, eliminating the high-quality ones and carefully considering them is an important job.
Even though some people and cultures are not comfortable with direct feedback, this section helps us assess work, collaboration, well-being, and job satisfaction. I use this section as much as I can and recommend it too. And since I am the facilitator of the meeting, adding bullet points also nudges my manager to provide feedback.
On the other hand, managers also need feedback, both positive or negative.
5. Challenges & Blockers
One-on-one meetings are the place where we get the manager's help on any blockers or challenges. I share any blockages that prevent me from doing my best work and ask for help from my manager.
Some challenges are often raised on Slack to act quickly. However, during the meeting, we brainstorm solutions and shine a light on the challenges we face.
6. Priorities until we meet again
This section aims to ensure our short-term goals are aligned with team and long-term goals. When we prioritize some topics, we clarify the expectations and make sure that we both agree on them.
7. Action Items
We use this section to write down action items that came out from our meeting. Most of the time, we both have separate action items. We know what we need to do precisely over the week and have a base to evaluate our work in the next meeting.
Meetings without a clear agenda are most often useless and pointless, especially one-on-ones. This template helps us to use the time most efficiently. Without a particular and consistent structure, we have to reinvent the wheel every time and create agendas for every specific one-on-one meeting. Even if you decide not to use this template and use another that fits your needs, I recommend using it consistently. Same as all the habits, it takes a little bit of time. Try to stick to it.
One-on-ones are your meetings. Own and facilitate them. Give this template a try and let me know what do you think. I'm @candosten on Twitter.