Before I became a manager, I was really annoyed with 1:1’s. They were just another status meeting where my manager would give me more detailed “feedback” on how to do my job, manage my projects, interact with people… Sometimes, I would receive good advice, but it was really rare. Mostly, it was just an opportunity for my manager to criticize my performance where it differed from how they would do my job. Now, some people do need more hand’s managing, but I was a top performer.

Then I became a manager. I hated 1:1’s. I wasn’t comfortable micromanaging. It felt wrong. I held them, but canceled them at the first possibility. It wasn’t like I didn’t have a weekly team meeting or project reviews. If I saw a need for a corrective action, I didn’t wait for a 1:1. I stopped by their office, asked their opinion on what was taking place, made suggestions on corrective actions. If I saw them do something well, I praised them on the spot.

It wasn’t until I changed managers a few times that I finally found out what a 1:1 was for… He and I had been peers before he was promoted and took over the department. I knew when I saw the calendar entry pop up for our first 1:1 that it would be awkward. But it was eye opening. He started by explaining that these weren’t for him, they were for me. He wanted me to set the agenda. He felt he had plenty of opportunity to discuss project status, knew what I was working on and was happy with the communication that was taking place. I didn’t know what to do. He helped me out with some suggestions, but told me he expected me to start personalizing it to meet my needs.

Eventually, it became conversations around my professional goals, challenges I need advice on, etc. I started following the same practice with my direct reports. Once I realized they weren’t for me as their manager, but for them, I began looking forward to them. The pressure was off. I could relax, find out what they thought was important. They became coaching and, in some cases, mentoring opportunities.

A few years later, I find that each 1:1 is different. Some people want to give me a blow by blow update on what they’ve accomplished. Others want to talk about their careers. Most want to meet every other week (I’m a firm believer that weekly 1:1’s are overkill – I like to create impromptu ‘drive-by’ situations), while a few only want to touch base briefly once a month. My only rule is that they think about how they want to use the time and come with an agenda. The only addition I place on the agenda is that we discuss their quarterly goals (not specific project tasks).

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