How to get the most out of your 1:1s

As a Director of Engineering, I have monthly 1:1s with all of my direct reports. A 1:1 (one-on-one) is a recurring meeting with no set agenda between a manager and one of their reports. The internet is full of valuable insight into how to run them from my perspective, (ex. The Update, The Vent, and The Disaster) but somewhat more limited in advice on how to make the most of them if you’re on the other side of the table. At Devetry, we run pretty flat, so I have a lot of direct reports, and we only meet once a month. Many people will work more closely with their manager, or meet more frequently, so some of this advice won’t transfer, but hopefully there’s still a few useful nuggets of wisdom.

Don’t make it a status update

If you take nothing else away from this article, let it be this - don’t make it a status update. This meeting is about you, and unless you’re giving me some context around the actual thing you want to talk about, a status update is just wasting your time.

Instead, give me status updates in slack, on a regular basis. This accomplishes several things:

  • It keeps you and your project top of mind throughout the month. My attention is naturally pulled towards whatever is currently on fire, or to shepherding something new. By checking in more frequently, you ensure that your project gets the attention it deserves, and that minor issues can get resolved before they turn into major ones.
  • A month is too long to go without a status update. To the point of minor issues turning into major issues - a weekly check-in can keep that from happening. We hire capable people and expect them to be able to independently solve problems, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Sometimes, I just have more leverage, to schedule meetings higher up the org chart, to put more weight behind a request, etc.
  • It’s an opportunity to make yourself look good. If Alice sends me a message every week saying something like “here’s the cool thing I did” or “here’s the fire I put out by myself”, the end result will be that I will vaguely remember a bunch of positive anecdotes about Alice. Don’t worry about coming across as self-promotional or inauthentic; as long as you’re not lying, these updates will only be received positively.

What do you want to get out of your 1:1s?

Knowing what you want out of your 1:1s is the first place to start. This meeting is not about me - as your manager, I can call a meeting with you anytime I need to talk about something. Particularly in a remote environment, your monthly 1:1 is one of the few opportunities you have to meet with your manager without someone else’s itinerary dictating the conversation.

Is there something bothering you?

If something is bothering you, tell me. I can’t do anything about it if I don’t know about it. Some people are worried about coming across as negative, or feeling like they’re complaining too much. Forget those concerns. I want to help you. I am thrilled when I get a chance to actually make a difference. So much of my job is just being present - checking the box that a Director was on the call, that a problem I can actually solve is a welcome distraction.

Do you want career growth?

If you’re trying to set yourself up for your next step in your career, obviously, tell me that too. But, the best advice I can offer you in this situation is to ask me what my problems are, and how you can help me solve them.

Almost by definition, my problems are at a different tier of responsibility than yours. By asking about, and offering to help with those problems, you are a) getting exposed to a different facet of the business than you usually would, and b) getting practice dealing with things that will form the foundation of your next role. When it comes time for performance reviews, it’s so much easier to justify a promotion when you’re already doing the work of the next tier.

Do you want more interesting work?

This section is particularly relevant for people who work at agencies like I do. Almost uniformly, the people who work at Devetry do so because they want exposure to a lot of different technologies, across a number of different industries. If you’ve been on a single project for over six months, and you’re ready for something new, let me know! I’m not going to move someone off of a project if that project is going well and they’re happy there, but if you tell me you’re looking for something else (and ideally, what you’re looking for) then I can keep an eye out.

Making this request in the middle of an ongoing project can also help ensure that your next engagement is a good fit. For better or for worse, waiting until the end of a project means that there’s a bit of a rush to find you your next thing. You’ll get assigned to whatever we have lying around. By starting this search early, we’ll greatly increase the odds that we find something that matches your interests, career goals, or is that perfect stretch project where you can learn something new.

End with next steps

I do this at the end of every single client meeting I take, and you should do it with me. The last few minutes of the call should be a round-up of all the action items that have been discussed. Clearly state:

  • Who is going to do it,
  • what is going to be done,
  • and when it’s going to be done by.

This makes responsibilities explicit, and reduces chances for miscommunication. It’s easy for me to come away from a conversation thinking “Bob wants to transfer to a new project, I’ll keep his name in mind as things come up” but for you to be imagining a much shorter timeline. By saying “You will find me a new project by our next 1:1”, you’re letting me know that I need to dial up that sense of urgency.


This article is a living document! If you’re one of my direct reports (or anyone, really, who attends 1:1s), and you notice a category of conversation I haven’t covered here, tell me! I’d love for this article to be a part of my personal README, and for all of my 1:1s to be more interesting and useful.