Andy: Weekly 1-on-1s with each of your reports is one of the cornerstones of our managerial advice. There’s no better way to build a healthy, functional team than to show up for each of them week after week.

Emma: It’s also one of the most immediately disregarded. Here are some of the reasons I’ve heard from managers who don’t have regular 1-on-1s:

    • I have way too much work
    • There’s not enough time
    • Meh, my team knows they can come to me for anything
    • We don’t have anything to talk about
    • I don’t really like the people on my team
    • They are a waste of time
    • Nothing ever really materializes
    • 1-on-1s just aren’t my management style
    • They feel too fake and forced
    • No other managers are having 1-on-1s
    • I always hated them as an employee
    • People on my team hate them
    • My team doesn’t need them
    • I’ve had some really bad 1-on-1 experiences
    • I’m really bad at them

To which I say: yes. Yes to all of it! There are lots and lots of reasons to not do 1-on-1s.

Andy: I honestly had to pledge to myself to simply never cancel them. They’re like dental appointments to me.

Emma: The dentist? Lol Andy, we’re trying to make a case for more 1-on-1s.

Andy: We are! That’s what makes it so important to point out that, even though I’m a 1-on-1’s biggest champion, it’s not because I love doing them. I put them in the calendar and I go, even — especially — when I don’t want to. I’ve been on this remedial cleaning regime with my dentist for years now. I have appointments every four months and it feels like a lot. But any amount of dentist feels like a lot, which is how I felt early on in 1-on-1s. I don’t like it, but I do it. And I’m better for it.

Emma: It makes total sense weekly 1-on-1s sound bananas if you’re currently holding them once a year, or even once a quarter. I’m sure it’s the same as when I hear that some people run five miles every morning. Like…how?

Andy: You can do it! There’s no better way to build a relationship with the people on your team. Imagine talking to a friend once a year — what kind of conversation can you really have? You won’t be talking about the daily frustrations, the ordinary annoyances, the mini wins, the incremental improvements. You’re stuck skimming through the highlight reel: moving cities, getting a dog, breaking your leg. Sure, there’d be a lot of topics to choose from, but you’d never actually get to anything meaningful.

Emma: And meaningful matters. 1-on-1s are where trust gets created. It’s not the only place. Trust can happen when you’re working side-by-side over long periods of time, or in short, intense periods. But 1-on-1s are a place dedicated singularly to trust. Trust that you know what’s happening on your team, what your reports do and want and think about. Trust that everyone’s clear on the goals and working toward the same outcomes. Trust that there is stability and reliability and security, and your reports have clarity on where they stand. Trust that when they talk, you’ll hear them.

Andy: When there’s trust on my team, there’s also an opportunity for a lot of shorthand and quick decisions. I already know how my team members react, what matters to them, and how they think. I know, for example, that when Andrew panics, time slows down for him. He needs space and autonomy to march toward the solution. He needs me to not send chats asking how it’s going. On the other hand, I know that you, Emma, would love another person to chat with you in real time and help you out of the panic fog.

Emma: Yes! Please!

Andy: I learned all this as their manager, in advance, week by un-cancelled week.

Emma: I’ve been told that building trust through long-term relationships is a pretty *squishy* way to think about management.

Andy: Yeah, it’s totally squishy, at least in the way I apply it. But I’ve had a few managers who held very effective weekly 1-on-1s with me that were far from squishy. And still, we built trust because they showed up consistently, and we talked through the issues. I learned how their brains worked, and they learned how mine worked. Soft, no. Trustworthy, yes.

Emma: There are plenty of defensive reasons to have 1-on-1s, too. I go back and read Rands’ old post on 1-on-1s all the time:

I’m not suggesting that every 1:1 is a tortuous affair to discover deeply hidden emergent disasters, but you do want to create a weekly place where dissatisfaction might quietly appear. A 1:1 is your chance to perform weekly preventive maintenance while also understanding the health of your team. A 1:1 is a place to listen for what they aren’t saying…Your reward for a culture of healthy 1:1s is a distinct lack of drama.

Andy: What manager doesn’t crave less drama? Show me that manager!

How to Have More Frequent 1-on-1s

We use Jolie Kerr’s advice on how often to wash your sheets for 1-on-1s, too: ideally every week, every other week is totally acceptable, once a month is pushing it, anything over that is not good. They should be at least 30 minutes, because that’s how long a decently meaningful conversation takes. And: they should not focus on status updates or project deliverables. That’s what all those other meetings are for.

Feeling a little daunted? Here’s how to start adding more 1-on-1s onto your calendar.

Stagger them throughout the week.

Especially if you find talking and listening particularly draining. Thirty minutes a day every day will wipe you out less than two days worth of back-to-backs.

Find a structure that works.

It shouldn’t be rigid — the whole point of a 1-on-1 is for your report to have space to get what they need — but a semblance of routine will make everyone feel less like they’re performing. For example, we both structure our 1-on-1s around Best/Worst/Worries. Rands always starts with “How are you?” and then maps the following convo into Update/Vent/Disaster.

Don’t wing it.

There will absolutely be 1-on-1s where you both get in that room, stare at each other, and have nothing to say. It is not fun. Do your best to have a back-up plan. The 1-on-1 topic selector we made years ago the first time we championed weekly 1-on-1s is a great place to start. Choose two or three to have in your back pocket.

Give yourself time to take notes afterwards.

We both keep a folder for each report, and an ongoing document for dedicated to our 1-on-1s. After each one, spend about 10 minutes jotting down what you discussed, your impressions, any next steps or promises you made. Reference this doc for your next 1-on-1 so you’re building on something — not starting fresh every week. (This also comes in handy when you’re writing annual reviews, recommendations, and performance improvement plans. )

Reward yourself!

It’s nice to do your 1-on-1s before your coffee break, or right before your afternoon stroll. You’ve done something worth giving yourself a pat on the back — plus, interacting can be draining so a bit of alone time is a nice recharge. (Not recommended: launching right into a high-pressure meeting, a meeting you have to host, or a barrage of chats awaiting your replies.) The re-entry should make it easy to keep your weekly commitment, not layer challenge on top of challenge.