Just one on one…..

…..That’s the way we do it

One thing that I have enjoyed above all other things while leading a team is the one on one meetings (1:1 hereafter) we have had.

A quick bit of search-engining reveals that there are lots of articles on how to run a good 1:1. Some of which are a good read, I can heartily recommend some of the output from Rob Lambert!

I have had so many different 1:1s as the subject, some that I have enjoyed and some that I really haven’t. I have tried to frame 1:1s that I have led, informed by how I have felt coming out of those meetings, changing things that I know I didn’t enjoy and adopting things that I have. We all have our own style, experiences and perspectives. This post is informed from my experiences running 1:1s, and what stands out to me as the key things to consider, broadly speaking, for these meetings.

I have two main points that I focus on, that I will elaborate on:

It’s all about them


A 1:1 should be shaped by the subject of the meeting. Not everyone that you will have a 1:1 with will have the same personality, needs, requirements and so on.

Your personality, biases and whatever you are going through should take a backseat. You might have an awesome anecdote, or story to show that you can sympathise with them, but they probably don’t need to know that, unless they ask!

I have always called for the importance of pastoral care for our people. By that I mean, sometimes we need to strip away everything else and just make sure to check how they are.

In my talk at Geordie Test Atelier, I focused on our inter-personal relationships in the workplace. There are a few points from the book on which the talk is based, by Gary Chapman, ‘The Five Love Languages’. Those directly relevant to 1:1s are:

  • Humble words:
    • in my conversations, I always try to present with humility, never presuming to know more than others, condescension never leads to a relationship of respect or trust, the foundation of which a 1:1 must be builtThe-only-true-knowledge-is-knowing-That-you-know-noThing-meme-40139
  • Learning to talk:
    • not all conversations need an agenda, we are human first, real and unforced interactions can be so vital in getting to know people, not just small talk
    • knowing what stresses each other out, pushes your buttons, grinds your gears, what makes people uncomfortable means you can do something about itgrindinggears
    • the same is true of things that people like, building relationships on shared likes and dislikes is the easiest way to work
    • It is important to note these, especially in relation to Quality Activities below. 
  • Quality activities:
    • having a shared positive memory bank can form a bond; that’s why these team building activities exist……even if they feel like a pain or forced sometimes, they do come from a good place
    • where I work now, especially in these times of social distancing, we have a daily call as a team…no shop talk…and with themes. This has proved to be especially useful for me, as I haven’t met almost anyone I work with, but I know that whenever we return to the office, I will have something I know about my colleagues
    • at my old office, some of us would play in pool tournaments, or casually at lunch time. I learnt some really interesting things about and shared more about myself with colleagues in that setting than in many others.
    • Good examples of quality activities are pairing, mobbing, sharing knowledge etc.
  • Best Investment:
    • how you choose to spend your time, resources and skills can often frame your relationships with colleagues – in ‘Radical Candor’ by Kim Scott, she talks about a process called “Get Stuff DoneRadicalCandor
    • am I selfish, or do you share my time, resources and skills appropriately?
      • I share an affinity with my eldest son, where I want to share new information all the time. It’s not because we’re trying to be a ‘know-it-all’, it’s because we’re excited about what we know and want to share it (within all good reason)
    • we talk a lot about servant leadership, this is a prime example
  • Gift of self:
    • which follows on to this…I need to be held accountable with these things
      • am I present in my interactions? – or am I thinking about something else (food, is often the culprit)
      • does the 1:1 feel like an obligation?
      • do I give feedback when requested?
      • do I do what you say you will do?
      • is there credibility in what I say?



Unpredictability – sometimes

A predictable conversation can be very disengaging. I can remember attending stand-up meetings that were just a case of going through the motions, no one wanted to be there, and everyone just wanted to get out of the stand-up area as soon as possible. It was some sort of race to give your feedback and say ‘no blockers’ as soon as possible, and then switch off. No one really cared what anyone else was doing, it was a bad meeting.

The same can be said of any meeting. I used to run test team meetings, and I could see when those in the meeting were disengaged. The challenge there was to mix it up, otherwise what was the point?

If a 1:1 is important, and I believe wholeheartedly that it is, then you need to strive for it to never be completely predictable.


I should note that I do believe that some predictability is important, think a metronome ticking away whilst an amazing tune is being played on the piano. The common thread and purpose of a 1:1 is that pastoral care, but mixing up the format and location can really help.

When the weather is nice, why not sit outside, or go for a walk?

It is important to note that one thing that works with one person, may well not work with others.

There are things that you may well need to accept:

  • not every 1:1 will leave you feeling positive
  • not every 1:1 requires mentoring or coaching
  • you may not be the right fit for everyone with whom you have a 1:1, that really is OK
  • you may have to address things that make you feel uncomfortable
  • 1:1s won’t always be fun
  • it is an honour and a privilege to have this time with someone, don’t waste it!

Blog post title lyrics from: Be the first to believe – by A1.

Find all the songs from my blog posts at this Spotify playlist.

3 responses to “Just one on one…..”

  1. Great content and sharing of what’s the best way to use the time well, just a bit overwhelmed by the graphics. So many graphics that, for me at least, it’s like being shotgunned out, and actually ignored one or two entirely.


    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. the encouragement is always appreciated.

      With reference to the graphics, could you expand on what you mean please?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: