Why 1:1 meetings are so valuable for Tech Leads
April 01, 2020
Every new Tech Lead will struggle to find time for coding in their busy day. That’s very normal because when you step into Tech Lead shoes you suddenly need to learn all those management tools from planning and prioritisation to decision making to conflict solving. You never know what you will need first, so you will have a fun time learning a bit of everything in parallel (and trying to meet your coding hours quota at the same time).
One cheap thing that you can start doing earlier in your career is to set up 1:1 (one-on-one, face-to-face) meetings with your team and direct manager(s). That’s low effort to schedule a monthly call into your calendar, and a huge investment into your people management capabilities.
First, let’s see why 1:1s are valuable, and then I’ll share some practical recommendations how to get started.
The value of 1:1s
1:1 meetings exist in management practice to build and maintain an essential human connection between you and another person who happened to be your colleague. In the long run, it simplifies all people management tasks that fall on a Tech Lead shoulders.
Many of us don’t have specialised people management skills when we start as Tech Leads. Most of us don’t realise how much people management work we Tech Leads actually do, so let me just list a few things to give you an idea:
- People performance / handling low performers
- Onboarding & mentoring
- Engaging & motivating
- Convincing people to get things right / follow the workflow
- Handling drama queens / emotional moments
- Handling complaints
- Asking and giving help
- Firing staff (Oops.)
That looks like a full time job, but the funny thing is that Tech Leads are supposed to be aware of all these people management aspects and handle them on a basic level while spending a couple of hours per day max on it.
Instead of learning all of that in detail, you can invest in something that is a foundation of people management - human connection. Practising focused 1:1 meetings with each member of your team (and with your manager, of course) is the easiest way to get better in all those things at the same time.
Tech Leads are often generalists, and 1:1 is another general tool that can help to solve different problems.
How to run my 1:1s
There are books written on the topic, but you will need them only if you decide to move further on the management ladder. Otherwise, you can use the basic, “common sense” recommendations:
⏱ Start with monthly 45min meetings with 1 or 2 teammates. Add more slowly.
You should really stick to your company policy around 1:1s. If you don’t have one, I can recommend starting with monthly meetings and make them more frequently if needed. Some of my 1:1s are monthly, others are weekly or quarterly. What’s important is that they all are recurring, and I generally try not to skip them.
👯♀️ Discuss what you both have in common at work
Should you prepare some interesting intellectual topics to discuss on your 1:1s? Not at all. You can stick to what you already have in common: a project that you both are working on. It doesn’t mean that you should be discussing a task that is currently in progress. Rather, you can talk about long term vision, current development workflow, what was challenging and what was frustrating in the past month for the other person, etc. Making a discussion a bit more generic can suddenly reveal very concrete and interesting things.
💎 Feedback exchange
Again, books have been written on it. Feedback is the root of improvement and growth, so take it seriously and prepare before the meeting.
- Give colorful positive feedback. Make sure it’s detailed enough. “Well done!” isn’t enough.
- Give corrective feedback. Google different ways to do that. You should be framing it in “things to improve” message for the other person.
- Ask for corrective feedback. If the other person is not prepared or shy, then try questions like “How I could help with X”, “What would be an ideal scenario of Y”, “I need your advice about Z” etc. Corrective feedback is a treasure that you must collect in order to improve. Try hard to get your treasures.
👂Practise active listening
Active listening is a skill that helps in many areas of our work, especially when talking to our customers and users. You can use your 1:1s to practise this skill. Start from noticing when you don’t understand or don’t really care about what the other person says.
Example: when a junior team member was explaining in detail how they tried to install the project locally, you were thinking about your next meeting in the background of your mind. Instead, you can ask a few questions to figure out if it’s a problem in the project documentation, installation script, the developer skills. Maybe everything is totally fine, but your junior team member is really worried that they spent 2 days on it and they will be fired because of that. Listen to them.
📒 Prepare private 1:1 document to take your own notes
You will need to remind yourself of the outcome of previous 1:1 meeting as well as keep notes for the next one. Simple Google Doc should work just fine.
🎭 Don’t play games
Don’t try to pretend that you are a friendly extravert who shares all the opinions of another person.It will not help you maintain a healthy relationship. Behave as usual.
🐢 Keep calm and have your 1:1
Don’t rush, don’t complain that you are very busy, don’t multitask while on 1:1. If you are not in the right mood / not prepared for your next 1:1, then better to postpone and come back prepared.
1:1 is a simple and powerful management tool that is often underestimated by novice Tech Leads. Regular 1:1s fall into “Important, not urgent” category of work — they are an investment in your people management capabilities. You don’t need to learn anything specific to get started, and it will get better and better with practice 🌈