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How to prepare for a 1:1 meeting with your manager

Understanding how to prepare for a 1:1 meeting isn't somehting often shared with employees. Yet it's a vital skill in order to get the most out or sitting down with your manager.

1:1 meetings can be something of an albino rhino in many companies; rarely seen and fills you with dread when near one.

That’s not how it should be though.

Receiving and providing feedback is vital to keep you on track. What’s more it keeps you growing and helps you become the workplace superstar you were born to be.

1:1 meetings are a perfect opportunity to share feedback between you and your manager. They should be happening all the time and definitely not something to fear. We’ll show you how to embrace and look forward to them.

So, if you’ve got an upcoming 1:1, or you want to get one booked in with your manager but aren’t quite sure how to prepare for a 1:1, read on.

What is a 1:1 meeting?

Starting with the basics, a 1:1 meeting (pronounced one-to-one or one-on-one meeting) is any sort of meeting between a manager and one of their direct-report employees.

Usually, the focus of the 1:1 meeting will be around your performance and more importantly, development.

It’s vital that you both understand the golden rule of 1:1s. These are not about a manager talking at an employee, but rather a conversation between both.

It’s not an opportunity for your manager to pick out all your flaws. Nor is it about getting into minute details, or them talking at you.

1:1s are a two-way conversation. It’s your responsibility to bring your voice to the conversation. The meeting should focus on the future: your development, what you need to help you grow, and how your manager can support that.

1:1 meetings are used to share feedback, keep each other in the loop, overcome issues, and help both participants develop in their roles.

The free-form, employee-focused nature that goes beyond simple status updates is what makes the 1:1 special. It’s perhaps the most important meeting you can have as it lays the foundation of a trusting, productive work relationship.

1:1 meetings can also be held between employees and their mentors, their boss’s boss (called skip-level 1:1s), or wherever it makes sense.

How often should 1:1s run?

Consistency is important. 1:1 meetings are most effective when they’re run regularly. They are lightweight, typically lasting no more than 30 minutes, and very much focused on dealing with recent events.

As such, 1:1 meetings should ideally run every one to two weeks. If you supplement them with a weekly employee check-in, then a monthly 1:1 is a perfectly fine cadence.

Anything outside of a month is likely not going to be frequent enough to benefit you or your manager. The feedback you’re both sharing is likely untimely and potentially irrelevant if more than a month old. Goals may have become outdated or low priority. Small issues could have grown into much more complex challenges.

If 1:1s are happening less frequently than once a month for you, it’s probably worth talking to your manager about increasing their occurrence.

How to prepare for a 1:1 with your manager

1:1s are designed to be lightweight meetings that don’t require too much in the way of planning, therefore allowing them to run frequently.

However, that doesn’t mean no planning is involved. The very best 1:1 sessions are between employees and managers who are both invested in their outcomes and therefore willing to put in some groundwork beforehand.

Here are a few ways to prepare for a 1:1 with your manager.

Work out what you want from your 1:1

Go into the meeting with a clear idea of what you want to talk about and the support (if any) you need.

Remember a 1:1 should really be about quickly updating your manager on where things are at for you and getting any advice or help you need.

Review recent activity and go in prepared.

Focus on the successes, challenges, and progress to key goals that you’ve experienced since your last 1:1. You may want to note down key details or add them to your agenda.

Weekly10 can make this super simple if you are using it, by reviewing recent check-ins.

Don’t let anxiety strike

Easy said than done, but 1:1s shouldn’t be something you fear.

They are about your development, sharing your work experiences with your manager and planning out what you want to be working on in the near future.

If they are causing you anxiety, then the likelihood is they are being run wrong. Speak to your manager if this is the case.

Talk with your manager

If you feel 1:1s aren’t frequent enough, or they’re not helping you to develop, then speak directly and openly with your manager. Raise any concerns and put forward the solutions you would like to see in place.

Don’t be afraid to help your manager out by pulling together a schedule or taking charge of agendas. They’ll more than likely appreciate you taking the lead. And it shows initiative on your part too.

A 6-point model for better 1:1s

If your 1:1s aren’t quite yet living up to expectation, then try changing it up.

Chat with your manager about shaking things up a little and with their agreement, start planning your next one-to-one meeting using this simple framework:

Agenda

It’s perfectly fine (and actively encouraged by many) for an employee to develop the agenda of their 1:1. Don’t forget this is a meeting about you and how you want to develop so why shouldn’t you shape the agenda?

Draw up a list of key talking points for each of the following sections and allocate time to each. Try to stick to 30 minutes, particularly for weekly or fortnightly 1:1s.

Updates

This is your time to share updates on action items from your previous 1:1. Also, cover any key status updates on projects you are working on. Be sure to highlight successes and reflect on what you’ve been enjoying or proud of.

Challenges

Now you get to ask for the help you need to continue to be successful and grow even more. Highlight where you need support from your manager (or others) and be specific about what you need if you know.

Also, make your manager aware of any potential impacts on deadlines that blockers are causing.

Action items

Circle back over the last two sections and record tasks and follow-ups from the discussion. Assign dates and accountabilities during this section to give you the best chance to complete all items effectively.

Goals review

Check-in on how you are tracking on goals that you have set at your last performance review/goal review etc.

Goals need to be reviewed, modified, or even removed frequently so that you are always working to the latest aligned objectives of the company. There is nothing worse than busting your gut on a certain goal only to find it’s no longer appropriate or needed.  

Reflect

After the meeting take some time to go over everything that was discussed with your manager. Plan in any action items, work out your priority list and circle back if you have any questions.

Don’t be concerned about asking follow-ups after the meeting, plenty of things can spring to mind later on and your manager should be more than willing to help.

A great 1:1 is all about you

Don’t forget your 1:1 is exactly that; yours.

It should be about helping you to develop your skills and expertise, receive timely constructive feedback, and touch base with your manager.

If things aren’t currently running right, work with your manager on a 1:1 strategy that works for you. Remember 1:1s should be an enjoyable experience, not something that causes even a hint of anxiety.

Understanding this, and how to prepare for a 1:1 are key steps in having great conversations with your manager.

Want to see how a Weekly10 check-in can help employees and managers have better 1:1 conversations?