At Blendle, we like to talk with each other – a lot. About work stuff, about the future of newspapers, about movies and television, about what not. I felt we weren’t focussed enough on really listening and providing honest feedback to each other. That’s why, as soon as I got the chance, I’ve introduced ‘one-on-ones’ to the team.

Wednesday morning, 8am. I’m walking towards our office trough the still quiet spaceship-like entrance at Media Plaza. Absolutely the best time to prepare for on average 8 one-on-ones I will have that day. The 1:1’s I do last 30 minutes and I have them scheduled back to back, to be as efficient as possible. This helps me to guard my time too.

Introducing something new is always tricky. I like to focus on the why to get everyone on board with the changes I introduce. For 1:1’s, I wrote a short introduction e-mail which I sent to everyone. In it, I explained what my plans were and that I would be scheduling meetings with everyone.

Why 1:1’s?

We had a discussion beforehand: wouldn’t this take up too much time? Would this be effective? Or would I just be drinking a lot of coffee. I really wanted to try this. All the guys on our team really need feedback so they continue to grow. They all have ideas worth capturing. They have valuable feedback for me as a product manager. Also, our team is growing fast. Without scheduled time to catch up, irritations can build quickly. 1:1’s are an effective way to defuse this.

1:1’s also help to focus on something else than deep trench work, the day to day stuff that keeps everyone from looking ahead. The 30 minute deadline ensures that it won’t take up your whole afternoon.

Performance reviews are necessary for every company. In practice: everyone hears what they can do better only two times a year. 1:1’s gives you the opportunity to exchange feedback on a far more regular basis.

The actual 1:1’s

In every first meeting, I would explain:

  • This time is about you. So prepare the 1:1 yourself. Make a list of things you want to talk about or want to discuss.
  • If you can’t make it at our scheduled time, please reschedule yourself. As I’m having 8 meetings back to back, I’m not reachable. Everyone at our company is able to view my calendar and is able to swap this way.
  • This is the rough schedule: 10 minutes for you to talk about you, 10 for me to talk about you and 10 about your future.
  • I really prefer face-to-face, it’s just better than everything else.

Other practical things:

  • I prepare and take notes in Evernote, so I have my laptop open
  • The default schedule for meeting is every other week, but I talk with the new guys every week for at least the first month
  • I do not supply notes afterwards

What works?

Lets start with the fact that having scheduled time with everyone on my team is really good. It depends a bit on the person, but almost all conversations are fun, teach me something and allow for giving constructive feedback.

I found that it works really good to pick one interesting question and ask it to everyone I’m talking to that day. Some weeks ago I asked everyone to name a couple of specific things they wanted to learn. I’ll list some resources at the bottom of this post.

Especially the first couple of weeks were intens, but the 1:1 days are still pretty exhausting. I’m getting more and more used to running 6 or more 1:1’s back to back, mostly because they are fun to do.

What does not work?

People and schedules are hard. The first couple of weeks, I had all of the 1:1’s in one string. Right now, the schedule is shattered a bit. I really want to talk face-to-face, but that results in meetings being moved all over my week. I still try to keep them together as much as possible, but I’m curious how other managers handle this.

Some of the guys on my team really prepare our talks, but most of them do not. This could make a big difference, both for them and for me. I didn’t want to do this, but right now I take around 20 minutes to jot down some notes for everyone. I’m also making notes during the week to which I’ll be referring.

What can I improve?

Asking the good questions is one of the most difficult things to do. Starting off with one of the 101 inspiring ones as referred to below is good, but a good manager listens and asks further questions to make sure the real issue is covered.

Taking notes during these meetings always feels a bit awkward. The Manager Tools podcasts clearly say that notes should be made on paper, not in any tools. This does not feel right to me, however, using my Mac to keep track of what I want to ask. It does keep my notes and follow-up tasks right where they belong.

I could make more notes during the week to get back to. I need to build this into my daily routine.

Another thing I want to do better is to take more time to give positive feedback and talk about things that are going well. I find that it is pretty easy to go trough my list of things I have gathered that can be improved without looking at the good stuff.

Now what?

I’m really happy with the process and results so far and I think it is something every manager should do. Our team is growing pretty fast and it won’t take long before having 1:1’s with everyone is simply impossible. This means we either have to split up the team, or I’d have to change the every other week schedule. I could also change the 30 minutes to 20 or 15 minutes, but I find it hard to fit all of my talking points in anything shorter than that.