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Tech Career Insights: How to Run Effective 1-on-1s as a Tech Manager
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How to Run Effective 1-on-1s as a Tech Manager

By Marcelle van Niekerk

Good 1-on-1 meetings between tech managers and developers help individuals grow in their roles, and can improve relationships within the team. Here are tips from ICF-certified coaches on how to run 1-on-1s effectively.

How to Run Effective 1-on-1s as a Tech Manager

Team DnA coaches Alison Faraday and David Kossew collaborate to coach teams in large and small organisations. In a recent Tech Leadership Meetup, they provided tools and techniques for tech leaders to run meaningful 1-on-1 meetings. These sessions are an important way to maintain a healthy company culture and growth mindset. This is especially true for tech companies, where coaching and mentorship are essential to help your team thrive.

Regular, purposeful 1-on-1 meetings provide a platform for developers to share ideas, speak freely about their professional and personal goals, and identify potential growth areas.

What is a 1-on-1?

A 1-on-1 is a regularly scheduled meeting that’s designed to build a connection with each person in your team, to help them meet their full potential. It needs to strike the right balance between formal and informal, and personal and professional.

While this will differ according to organisations, teams and individuals, you can set your 1:1s up for success by creating a structure and using practical tools.

Here’s how you can do that using the frameworks and models David and Alison recommend.

How to set up and structure an effective 1-on-1

A good way to structure a 1-on-1 meeting is around the GROW model. This framework divides the conversation into four phases (goal, reality, options and way forward) to ensure that you and the developer you’re speaking with get the most value out of it.

There’s no need to follow the model in a linear way, but it’s important to cover each component.

Goals

Goals don’t necessarily have to be career or performance related, they may relate to the conversation at hand. Setting a goal for the meeting will direct how you approach the session and allow you to identify areas for growth and improvement.

Good questions to ask include:

  • Where do we want to go with this conversation?
  • What would we like to emerge from this meeting with?
  • What would make this conversation worthwhile?

Reality

Looking at how things currently stand — the reality — allows you and the developer to take stock and think through the goal in a measured way.

Here, you’re able to unpack their point of view on the situation, and check all assumptions or ideas they may have about their reality and goals. What’s more, encouraging objective assessment can help to reduce any anxieties they may have about moving towards their goal.

Good questions to ask include:

  • What is the current reality?
  • Where do we stand now?
  • What have you been able to achieve thus far?

Options

Next, you want to look at the possibilities that exist for achieving the goal. Brainstorming is a great tool for problem-solving at this point.

Creating an environment where your team member feels comfortable sharing their ideas will help them to come up with a variety of possible solutions, identify common themes and come up with strategies they can use to move forward.

Good questions to ask include:

  • What is possible?
  • What options do we have now?
  • What opportunities exist?

Way forward

The way forward focuses on identifying an action that will help your team member achieve their goal. You’ll work with them to determine how they will stay accountable. This will provide the basis for assessing their success in future 1-on-1s.

Good questions to ask include:

  • What actions can you commit to?
  • What obstacles do you anticipate?
  • How will you stay accountable?
  • What support do you need?

Practical tools for creating better 1-on-1s

1-on-1 sessions focus on coaching developers to help them grow professionally and personally. Rather than leading the conversation by only giving advice, you want to give them the space to come up with their own solutions.

Two key tools for enabling developers to create their own solutions are listening and questioning.

LOVE listening

The LOVE (listen, observe, verify and empathise) framework will help you to master deep listening. This will help you understand the pain points and motivations of the person you’re meeting with.

  • Listen attentively: Put away your devices and only have apps necessary for the meeting open on your laptop. Avoid interjecting or focusing on a point that might distract you while your team member is talking.

  • Observe tone and body language: Consider the other person’s behaviour along with their words. Explore why there might be a mismatch between what they’re saying and body language.

“For example, maybe your team member is telling you something horrible that happened to him in the last week, but there’s a smile on his face,” explains David. If you notice any such discrepancies in the moment, be sure to ask about that.

  • Verify and clarify: Avoid imposing your own thoughts or assumptions of the conversation, by summarise what you heard and asking whether there’s anything you’ve missed or may have misunderstood.

    Asking these clarifying questions will help you understand your team member’s point of view, leading to the last point in the framework:

  • Empathise: Try to put yourself in the developer’s shoes and understand why they think or feel a certain way.

Develop your questioning skills

After creating a solid 1-on-1 structure and listening to your team member, you can start asking the developer questions about what they’ve shared.

Focus on intentional, open-ended questions

Be clear about where you’re going with your question. Approach the conversation with a curious mindset, asking ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘when’ questions. Avoid only asking ‘why’ questions, as these can appear aggressive.

Ask one question at a time

Avoid bombarding your team members with multiple questions at the same time. Rather ask one question and wait for the answer.

It’s usually a good sign if someone takes some time to formulate a response, as it shows they’re giving their response some thought.

Respect the power of silence

Allow silences to do their work — without making things awkward. It’s important to give your team member enough space to come up with an answer.

Use reflective listening

Basing your questions on what the developer has said — reflective listening — shows that you’ve heard what they were trying to communicate. It also shows that you’re acknowledging their point of view and want to help them to express themselves. What’s more, it can help them to clarify and organise their thoughts.


Finally, while using these frameworks act as useful guidelines to structure your 1-on-1s, remember to adapt it according to your relationship with each team member:

“It does take a bit of practice to learn how to do this well,” David concluded. “I’d recommend practicing a model like GROW, and then use your intuition as well — what the correct conversation is for this person, for this context, for this moment right now.”

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