Supercharge Your 1-1s With Your Manager

Written by John on
Supercharge Your 1-1s With Your Manager

Supercharge your 1-1s with your manager

It’s a sunny Thursday morning at work. You’re planning your day – text editor open, GitHub close at hand – when you take a peek at your calendar.

You / Your Manager 1-1 – 10am

😱 Oh yeah, your weekly 1-1! Fortunately, your manager always runs a little late and come with a pet topic to discuss (ok, I literally will discuss my pet with you 🐶). You can fill 30 minutes together, right…🤔…riiiight? 🤞

Is there a better way, you ask?? Introducing my unsolicited ✨Guide to Supercharging Your 1-1s ✨, split into three focus areas and steps for your viewing convenience.

There are lots of types of 1-1s, but here I’m focusing on the IC <—> Engineering Manager type. Your own mileage may vary, and you might have your own thing going. I offer a perspective in this guide, but overall, the important thing is to spend your time intentionally and dial into whatever works for you.

About 1-1s

Your 1-1 with your manager is your regular, synchronous time for a few focus areas:

  1. Surfacing the good, bad, and the ugly 👻
  2. Exchanging feedback 🔁
  3. Leveling up in your career 🚀

You own the outcome; you are the DRI. 🤝

A cadence of between 30-60 minutes, every week or alternating weeks, works for most people. You can always adjust timing and find ways to share context in between 1-1s. You can try Zoom or phone, walking or desk, in person or across the world; just minimize distractions!

Here are the steps I recommend taking before every 1-1.

🗒️ Prepare

If you aren’t thinking through your 1-1s ahead of time, week after week, you’re missing out 😪. Sure, winging it is cool, but no team (corporate, sports, mathletes, or otherwise) gets very far for very long without having a plan. Or think of it as deciding on the key signature before jamming with your band 🎶. You should still improvise! As a rule of thumb, I spend about half as much time planning my own 1-1s with my manager as having them, but often the conversation leads somewhere unexpected and rewarding. That’s a success.

Where do you actually do this preparation? I highly recommend a private, shared resource like a Google Doc, GitHub repo, or your favorite alternative. This gives both of you a source of truth for reflection. (Bonus points: maintain a separate brag doc 😌💅 you can use together as a record of results.) As you move managers throughout your career, you can invite them to it or fork to start fresh.

When do you prepare? Lean into async! Things will come to mind throughout the week that need some conversation, which you can add to the shared resource. If not, and if you’re forgetful like me, Slack or Google Calendar reminders are super helpful. Plop a 15 minute, focused prep time block into your calendar and roll up looking like the boss you are.

👐 Open up

Show time! Trust your manager, and invite them to trust you back. Most of us 😏 in management are here because we want to be – getting hard work done comes with feelings, and we’re here for it. We’ve got your back as we keep moving forward together.

Come to find out, entire books and even some OSS repos (1, 2) are dedicated to effective 1-1s with your manager. Who knew! Steal a few questions and techniques and we won’t tell. 🤫

🪞 Reflect and follow up

Choosing a most important part to this whole thing is hard, but this part is certainly the most overlooked. Often, you’ll end your 1-1 with some action items, decisions, or ambiguous areas. Cool! This is exactly why we take notes: to capture the important stuff.

Give yourself a day, then go back to the 1-1 notes. How did that 1-1 go? Did you articulate what you wanted to? Did something catch your attention? Any followups? Check off your list, then fold any stray reflections back into the next 1-1 prep. ✅

I hope this is a helpful framework from someone who is always working toward short, productive meetings, and genuinely cares about your success!

What has worked for you? What’s your ideal 1-1 like?

Give me a shout on Twitter or GitHub (@imjohnbo) if you have any callouts, thoughts, or questions.