Good vs Bad 1-1 meetings

  • March 22, 2022
  • 3 min read


Good 1-1s result in deeper bi-directional relationships. You gain a deeper understanding of the current state of the other person’s brain and heart.

By brain, I mean you understand what they’re working on, their practical challenges, and you guide them by providing context around the business/technology whys and goals. Ultimately, you enable them to get their stuff done efficiently, and you push them to set themselves more challenging goals next (that leads to personal and career growth).

By heart, I mean you understand how they feel, why they feel that way, their stresses, dreams and what motivates them. You leave a good 1-1, feeling more confident and happy. You leave a bad 1-1, feeling anxious and confused.

Good 1-1s mean a deep two way relationship, so even when there are major challenges on either side, they can trust each other and ask for help. For example, someone could be going through tough personal issues, which impacts their work1. Likewise, the company could be going through tough times. Good 1-1s mean that people can have difficult and constructive conversations. Bad 1-1s mean that people keep the conversations at level one2.

Good 1-1s feel like both sides learning more about each other. Bad 1-1s feel like only one side learning from the other side. Good 1-1s feel like informal conversations where both sides are engaged and listening.

Good 1-1s mean that people’s trajectory and the company’s trajectory are aligned. Good 1-1s mean that there are brief notes and action items. Bad 1-1s mean a lot of talk but no action.


Usually people have a few things they want to talk about in their 1-1s so you can start by asking them how they are, and any topics they’d like to discuss.

Helpful questions for managers to ask in 1-1s:

  1. How are you? What was the last week or two like? What was the high and low moment?
  2. What’s the most challenging part of the feature/story you’re working on? How can I help with that?
  3. Highlight one or two things that the person did that you thought were very positive. This positive affirmation encourages the person to do more of that going forward. Highlight one or two things that you think the candidate can improve on. Be very specific and provide an example of how it could have been done better.
  4. Is there anything you think the company should be doing that we’re not? Any questions about the company?
  5. Is there anything you think I should be doing that I’m not?
  6. How are you getting on with person X? Use this to nudge people to talk to each other if there is a weak relationship or if you notice any tension between them.

Every month or two, reflect on the person’s skillset and think about goals they might be interested in setting (e.g. learn a new part of the stack, improve communication skills, learn a new technology). Use 1-1s to plant the seed for these goals and discuss them.

Have one shared Google doc in the recurring 1-1s calendar invite to record action items and any important notes. Keep the doc brief. This will help jog people’s memory when it comes to performance reviews too.

Action items:
1. Person A to do X by date Y
2. ...
Any important notes, e.g. we discussed Z

  1. At the end of the day, people don’t switch their brain/heart when they switch between work and non-work.

  2. Amy Buechler wrote about the three levels of conversations: