March 8, 2021

Back to Basics - 1:1's

Now that the world is experiencing massive changes due to COVID, let's jump back into the basics of having effective 1:1s with your team

Back to Basics - 1:1's

I have always been a big advocate for 1:1's and have written about them numerous times before. For the past year, the world has been encompassed by the COVID pandemic and now, more than ever, we need to make sure that everyone within your team is having effective, useful 1:1's.

The Basics

The 1:1 is a place where you provide your undivided attention to the individual to understand any concerns that they may have, what their growth plans are, how they are doing on a personal level and to create an environment where they can feel safe to talk to you. All these things help build a meaningful, human connection with them.

Typically, I would recommend that each 1:1 be about 30 minutes, any shorter and you really don't have enough time to have meaningful, useful conversation with them. When it comes to frequency, it really depends on the situation. Normally, I would recommend weekly catchups, but you may decide to do it less frequently. You need to work out what cadence would work for you and the team members.

Common Pitfalls

On the face of it, 1:1s seem quite simple, but they can easily lose their value and result in wasted time. Below are some of the traps to look out for that can instantly minimise the effectiveness of 1:1's


With COVID causing a sizable portion of the world's population to work from home, 1:1's have now moved over to being conducted over Teams/Zoom. Managers conducting these 1:1's tend to be busy, and now that these 1:1's are over video chat, it gives them the opportunity to multitask and complete other things, instead of focusing purely on the individual. Let me just say this now, don't do this!

I have experienced this firsthand, and there is no quicker way for someone to feel like the person on the other side of the screen doesn't care for you. It really makes you feel like they have more important things to do, and you are just part of a checklist that needs ticking.

Being Unprepared

Having an effective 1:1 requires that you prepare for them. From personal experience, I have run 1:1's without preparing for them and they have fallen flat. You'll feel that the 1:1 provided little value and I can guarantee you that the other person will feel the same way. If you have a few of these, the team member will lose interest, thereby effectively making them useless.

Taking 5 minutes to review your notes from the previous catchup, identify any questions or concerns you want to raise with them will really help in increasing the value of your 1:1. In a future post, I will share a list of questions that you can ask to help facilitate the 1:1's.


Often managers are quite busy, and it may be tempting to cancel the 1:1 to handle something more urgent. This may be fine to do rarely, but if it becomes a habit, your team member will start to see that there are more important things than them and lose interest in the 1:1s

Wrong Topics

There is a mantra I heard once that really resonated with me around what types of topics should be discussed during a 1:1 and it went along the following lines

If you can talk about it over lunch, with other team members there, then it's not worth chatting about it in the 1:1

It really makes so much sense. You only have limited time in the 1:1, so make sure you chat about the important, personal things that you can't talk to them about in an open forum. You'll have plenty of opportunities for those, such as during lunch or when waiting for a meeting to start.

In addition, if it starts to turn into a 'tactical check in', where you try to understand what they are working on, how the work is going etc, it starts to provide you more value than your team member. You want it to be about helping them, and if you want to get more information on those items, there will be other opportunities for that throughout the week, like at daily stand-ups etc.


In the past, I have run many 1:1's where at the end of the meeting both people have said that they would do an action, only to discover at the next catchup that nothing was done. There could have been many reasons, such as people interpreting things differently or just forgetting. No matter what the reason is, it has two big side effects, namely wasting time, and more importantly, losing trust in the other person.

In order to avoid these issues, what you can do is at the end of the meeting you send out a summary of the main points that were discussed, including action points. This helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and give the opportunity raise anything that is missing/misinterpreted. When it comes to action points, it also makes it clear as to who will be accountable for them, so if someone says that they would do X then in the next catchup you can ask them how it went. They may have a legitimate reason for not doing it, but if it is recurring theme then the 1:1 is the perfect place to address this. In doing this, it helps ensure that the ball is kept moving forward and the 1:1's are providing value. Like I said before, the last thing you want is for people to lose trust in you for not doing what you said.

What happens if you don't have effective 1:1s?

You may be wondering "So what happens if I have an ineffective 1:1?" First off, I can tell you from experience that you are going to have days where your 1:1's fall flat, and that's okay. As long as it doesn't become a trend. But to answer the original question, ineffective 1:1's will essentially result in more people leaving the company

Ineffective 1:1s = Increased churn in the company

Granted, people will always leave a company, but I personally believe that effective 1:1's can reduce that churn significantly and the reason for that are simple. When you have effective 1:1s, you build up the relationship with the person, you understand their frustrations and they start to speak openly and honestly about aspects worry and concern them, such as the lack of growth. Knowing these things provides you the opportunity to see what you can do to help them, and when done successfully, tends to make people stay longer at the company as they feel cared for and happy.

People want to feel that they are growing and cared for, 1:1s can help ensure that.

Without 1:1s, the opportunities you have to address these issues or concerns are significantly decreased, thereby not providing you the opportunity to correct them. This results in people just being fed up and look for another job, as they feel there is no one that they can talk to, or nobody that cares.


Now, more than ever, COVID is affecting the world in ways we never expected, we need to ensure that people within our team are having effective, regular 1:1's. However, don't tumble into the common pitfalls, such as of not focusing on your team member or being unprepared for them. Effective 1:1s result in people being happier at the company and therefore stay longer.

At the end of the day, we have two choices. To either spend the time to focus and help your team members grow or face the risk that they will just keep quiet and leave. What will your choice be?

Until next time...keep learning!