The Ultimate Guide to Engineering Manager One-on-Ones

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Structured one-on-one meetings are like following a recipe, they provide managers with the opportunity to connect with your team members, understand their goals and challenges, provide feedback and guidance, and ensure all the necessary ingredients are in place so that everyone is aligned and working towards a common goal. In this guide, we’ll explore some best practices for engineering managers hosting one-on-ones with team members.

7 benefits of one-on-one meetings

You can use one-on-one meetings for a variety of reasons, including:

Connecting with team members

Creating a supportive space for discussion can foster a team culture of open communication and feedback. One-on-ones provide managers an opportunity to get to know team members as a person and teammates.

Helping employees achieve their goals

Identifying goals and action items for your employees is an important part of supporting their growth and development. Here are some steps to help you identify goals and action items for your team members:

  • Discuss aspirations: Ask about career aspirations and what your employees would like to achieve in their role. This can help identify areas where they are motivated to develop their experience.
  • Identify areas for improvement: Review performance and identify areas where employees can improve their skills or knowledge. This can include technical, soft, or management skills.
  • Establish accountability: Determine who will be responsible for each action item and set deadlines for completion. This can help ensure that progress is being made and that goals are being achieved.
  • Set SMART goals: Work with your employee to set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound) goals that align with their aspirations and areas for improvement. These goals should be challenging yet achievable and provide a clear direction for their development.
  • Create action items: Identify specific actions individuals can take to achieve their goals. These should be practical, realistic, and aligned with the employee’s skills. Some examples include:
  • Encourage learning: Attending a training course or workshop
  • Shadowing a senior team member on a project to gain more experience and exposure to new skills and techniques.
  • Set up regular feedback: Setting up regular 1:1 meetings with a mentor or coach to receive feedback
  • Nurture leadership: Taking on a leadership role in a project
  • Encourage writing: Writing a technical blog post

Sharing performance feedback

Providing constructive feedback to your peers as an engineering manager is an important aspect of building a strong and effective team. Here are some tips on how to provide constructive feedback to your team:

  • Be specific: Provide examples to support your feedback. This will help your team members understand what they did well or what they need to improve on.

    Example: “I noticed during the last team meeting that you interrupted others while they were speaking. I love that you’re excited about this topic, but try to let others finish their thoughts before sharing your own ideas.”

  • Be objective: Don’t make personal attacks or being overly critical. Focus on the facts and be objective in your feedback.
  • Use a positive tone: Frame your feedback in a positive way, emphasizing the things your team members did well and offer suggestions for improvement.

    Example: “You did a great job presenting during the last client meeting. However, I think it would be even more effective if you could use more visual aids to support your points.”

  • Focus on behavior: Focus on the behavior or actions that you are providing feedback on, rather than on the person.

    Example: “During the last sprint, there were a few instances where your communication with the team could have been clearer. Let’s work on improving our communication going forward to avoid any misunderstandings.”

  • Offer solutions: Provide specific solutions or suggestions for improvement. This can help your team members understand how they can improve and feel more motivated to make changes. If you have a solution or action plan right away, that’s OK. You both can take time to brainstorm possibilities.

    Example: “I noticed that you’ve been struggling with a particular coding challenge. Perhaps some training sessions or taking an online course to improve your skills in that area might help. What do you think?”

  • Follow up: Check in with your team member after providing feedback to ensure that they understand the feedback and are making progress towards improvement.

    Example: “Thanks for taking my feedback on board. Let’s check in next week to see how things are going and discuss any further”

Addressing concerns or issues 

Giving your team a safe environment to discuss concerns or issues allows managers to identify and resolve hiccups before they escalate and become bigger problems.

Prioritizing career development

Helping employees identify areas for growth and development, as well as provide guidance on how to achieve their career goals is essential for long-term success.

Aligning team members Bringing team members together

Carving out time on a regular basis (i.e. monthly) to review team objectives, discuss progress, and identify areas for improvement is key to making sure your team is working toward the same goals.

Offering recognition and rewards

Recognizing and rewarding team members for their hard work and achievements can boost morale and motivation. Regularly acknowledging successes, offering praise, and discussing rewards creates an environment in which everyone feels trust, safety, accountability, and equity.

How to prepare for one-on-one meetings

Be consistent but flexible

To create consistent and open communication, establish a regular cadence (weekly or bi-weekly) for one-on-one meetings with each team member. However, leaving room to adjust as needed is crucial. For instance, if a team member is struggling with a particular issue or project, you may decide to increase the frequency of your one-on-one meetings to provide additional support and guidance.

Give ample time

The length of one-on-one meetings between a manager and a team member can vary depending on the needs and goals of the team member and the availability of the manager. However, a typical length for a one-on-one meeting is between 30 to 60 minutes. It’s important to note that the length of the meeting should not be the primary focus, but rather the quality of the conversation and the outcomes achieved. The meeting should allow sufficient time to cover the key topics on the agenda and provide an opportunity for open and productive communication between the manager and team member. The one-on-one meeting should be focused on the team member’s goals, challenges, and development. Give the team members ample time to speak and share their thoughts, ideas, and concerns.

Provide an agenda

Before your one-on-one meetings, take some time to review the team member’s recent work. This will help you identify any areas where the team member needs additional support or guidance. Use this information to create and share an agenda 24 hours prior to the meeting that outlines the topics you want to discuss. Here’s a sample agenda:

Topic Summary Time 
Check-in Begin the meeting by asking how the team member is doing and if there are any updates or concerns they would like to discuss. 5 mins
Progress and accomplishments Review the team member’s progress on current projects and discuss any accomplishments since the last one-on-one meeting 10 mins
Challenges and obstacles Discuss any challenges or obstacles the team member is facing and work together to identify potential solutions. 10 mins
Feedback Provide feedback on the team member’s performance, including strengths and areas for improvement. Encourage the team member to provide feedback on your performance as well. 10 mins
Goals and development Set goals for the team member, both short-term and long-term, and identify actionable steps to achieve them. Discuss opportunities for growth and development within the team or organization. 15 mins
Action items and follow-up Recap the key takeaways from the meeting and identify any action items and next steps. Follow up on action items in the next one-on-one meeting. 5 mins
Wrap-up End the meeting by thanking the team member for their time and contributions, and reiterate your support for their success. 2 mins

Questions to ask yourself before your next one-on-one

Career desires What does each team member see as their next role?
Does each team member have a career plan, or are they seeking guidance?
What are their aspirations for their next role and how can we help them get there?
Team skills Who are your high performing team members?
Which key skills does each team member own?
What do they enjoy doing the most?
Which projects did they excel at?
What is their main area for improvement? How can I help them improve?
Who works in a close capacity, and which team members rarely speak with one another?
Strategic team alignment Does everyone on the team feel on the same page?
How is team communication?
Are there frequent fire drills, and how are fire drills handled?
Is anyone carrying significantly more weight?
How are they feeling about their workload?
What obstacles are they running into with their current work projects?
What makes their job harder?
Is there anything I can do to be more helpful leaders to them?
Do team members know the strategy for the quarter and year?

Questions to ask during one-on-one meetings

By asking the right questions during one-on-one meetings, you can encourage your team to share thoughts and ideas and support development and career growth.

Here are some questions to ask:

Type Use case  Example 
Open-ended questions Use open-ended questions that encourage team members to share their thoughts and ideas in detail. “What’s been challenging for you lately?” or “What do you think could be improved on this project?
Clarifying questions Ask clarification questions to ensure you fully understand your team members’ perspective. Example: “Can you explain what you mean by that?” or “Can you give me an example of what you’re referring to?”
Follow-up questions Ask follow-up questions to explore a topic in more detail. “How did that make you feel?” or “What do you think we could do differently next time?”
Goal-oriented questions Ask goal-oriented questions that help your team members focus on their development and career aspirations. “What are your career goals in the next 12 months?” or “What skills do you want to develop in your role?”

End the one-on-one meeting on a positive note, acknowledging the team member’s progress and accomplishments. Provide clear expectations for the next meeting.

How to handle difficult conversations

Listen 

Actively listen to your team member’s concerns and show genuine interest in their perspective. This can help build trust and encourage more open and honest communication.

Stay calm 

Keep the conversation focused on the issue at hand and avoid getting emotional.

Focus on solutions

Brainstorm ideas together and come up with a plan for moving forward.

5 reasons why taking notes matters

It’s important to capture key points and action items, but also to be present and engaged in the conversation. Your notes don’t need to be a transcript, rather use a consistent format or template to recap the conversation. You can use a shared document or note-taking app, to keep your notes organized and easily accessible. Here are five reasons why meeting notes are essential to success.

  1. Document progress: Taking notes can help you document the progress of your team members and keep track of their goals, accomplishments, and areas for improvement.
  2. Prepare for future meetings: Notes can be used to prepare for future one-on-one meetings and ensure that you are following up on action items and addressing any ongoing concerns.
  3. Identify patterns: By taking notes on common themes or issues that arise during one-on-one meetings, you can identify patterns or trends that may require further attention.
    “John expressed some concerns about workload and time management.
  4. Provide feedback: Notes can be used to provide feedback on the team member’s performance and identify areas for improvement. “Steve has been struggling to meet deadlines lately. Let’s work together to identify any obstacles and come up with a plan to improve.”
  5. Demonstrate active listening: Taking notes can demonstrate to your team member that you are actively listening and engaged in the conversation.

4 tools to enhance your one-on-one meetings

There are many tools available for capturing one-on-one meeting notes and actions as an engineering manager. Here are some we’ve found helpful:

  1. Note-taking apps: Apps like Evernote, OneNote, and Google Keep are popular for taking notes during one-on-one meetings. These apps allow you to create notes, tag them for easy organization, and share them with others.
  2. Task management tools: Tools like Trello, Asana, and Monday.com can be used to track action items and deadlines discussed during one-on-one meetings. You can assign tasks to team members, set due dates, and track progress.
  3. Communication platforms: Platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Chat can be used to record notes and actions during one-on-one meetings in a dedicated channel or chat. This allows you to easily reference past discussions and keep all related information in one place.
  4. Dedicated software: There are many dedicated software solutions available specifically for one-on-one meeting management. Examples include Lattice, 15Five, and Reflektive.

By prioritizing regular check-ins with your team, you can improve communication, foster stronger relationships, and ultimately drive better business outcomes. If you’re looking to take your staff augmentation efforts to the next level, Trio can help!

With our experienced team and comprehensive solutions, we can provide the support and expertise you need to achieve your goals.

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With over 10 years of experience in software outsourcing, Alex has assisted in building high-performance teams before co-founding Trio with his partner Daniel. Today he enjoys helping people hire the best software developers from Latin America and writing great content on how to do that!
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