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The Bare Minimum Guide for How to Run Effective 1:1s

Michael Columbus
3 min readSep 19, 2021


Doing great work is hard. It’s especially hard if you’re one person. I learned recently that ‘teams’ as a concept only became a thing in the 90s (and no, not that Teams. But the answer, if I haven’t already spoiled it, is teams. I’m sure you didn’t see that coming.


Teams are broken for a lot of different reasons. For 1, the incentive structure is all wrong. The tactics to get promoted as an individual don’t lend themselves towards high performing team environments. Now, it’s outside the scope of this article to fix teams. And besides, there’s a lot to teams that can’t be controlled. You can’t control the relationship between James and Jackie. All you can control is your relationship to each of them individually (and even still, you can only control your side of the relationship). That’s why to make a positive difference on your teams it’s so important to have strong relationships with your direct reports. And the bedrock of that dynamic is your 1:1’s.

A lot has been written about running one on one meetings. There are a thousand ways to approach these meetings.

These are the practices for running 1:1s that have been most effective in my career.

  • 📅 Meet weekly. You need to meet regularly to build a strong working relationship. If Know Thyself is one the commandments of life, then Know Thy Team is one of the commandments of management. The specific duration and day of the week are up to you.
  • 🔄 Normalize two way feedback. If you don’t have a work place culture of feedback this may seem awkward at first. Push through it. Every time you meet you should ask “Do you have any feedback for me?” and “Here’s my feedback for you.” It is critical that this be a two-way conversation. If you notice a pattern of no feedback from your report, try broaching the topic from another angle by acknowledging a few things you are aware of that you could be doing better. This vulnerability will help establish rapport. People like managers who develop them. You want to be direct with your feedback without being overly harsh. As their manager you have their best interest at heart and want them to be the best they can be. Always remember that when giving feedback (and it doesn’t hurt to tell them that).
  • 🔍 Clarify expectations both ways. Ask “What do you need from me?” and clarify what you need from them. If they consistently don’t need anything from you, consider making suggestions or asking leading questions as they may not know what to ask. People don’t do their best work with shifting priorities. This’ll happen from time to time, but prevent it when you can. When they miss the mark and there aren’t clear expectations, that’s on you as their manager.
  • 👀 Look ahead. It is very easy to focus on the problems of the current day. If you do this you will become mired in a reactive cycle. Manage your risks ahead of time and everyone will be better off for it. This part of the conversation will rely a lot on your experience to help the consultant identify risks.
  • 🔗 Use it as a time to connect. Get to know one another. We spend a lot of time at work. Connecting will help you like your work more and encourage the other person to want to work with you. As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
  • 🤝 Recognize that your work style may be different than you report’s. In the work place DiSC is my work style inventory of choice. Once literate in the framework, it’s relatively easy to identify which category folks fall into (which is critical because not everyone will take the test).

The bottom line is, it’s possible you don’t have 1:1s with your direct reports and that things are going fine. To that I would say, putting the time in with your reports will inspire them to want to work with you and for you. You get out of that relationship what you put into it, just like anything else.

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Michael Columbus

Software Consultant x Chemical Engineer x Mid-30s Married Guy with a stream-of-consciousness-bent Let's spend some time together 🥂