In a world that recently went through the great resignation and is now enduring quiet quitting combined with a difficult-to-say-the-least economic outlook, business focus is shifting towards retaining top talent, rather than growing it with additional permanent hires.

A key part of that retention is nurturing the right environment, regardless of whether your team is remote, hybrid, or on-site. With that in mind, effective 1:1s are a good way to both build and receive feedback on your environment.

report by Harvard Business Review found that in comparison to those who meet with their managers regularly, team members that don’t have 1:1s are:

  1. 4x as likely to be disengaged,
  2. 2x as likely to view leadership unfavourably.

So those 1:1s that are often shoehorned into a calendar (or worse, removed from the same calendar because ‘everything’s going good’) are without doubt a crucial factor in dictating your environment and supporting staff retention.

So, as a manager (at any level), how can you ensure 1:1s deliver real value?

Be human

There’s the common phrase in sales that ‘people buy from people’ and when anyone joins your businesses, whilst the name, the title, the project, and the compensation play a part, ultimately the selling point is the people and collectively what the people in your organisation can achieve as part of your company mission. Your team members each made an active decision to join the company.

It sounds ridiculous to even need to say ‘be human’ when it comes to a 1:1, but these meetings often become drowned in process, stuck to strict agendas and ultimately, a formality. Each one is an opportunity to better understand each person in your team, provide support and empathy, and ultimately play a part in that person’s career beyond the here and now. As a manager, you may feel that a positive 1:1 is dependent on your team member, but when that person leaves the meeting room (or video call), be it good or bad, their feelings will be dependent on how you approached the conversation just as much as they did.

Emotional intelligence (EQ) plays a huge part in an effective 1:1, but so does simply understanding the people in your team, which – you guessed it – is something that you’ll learn and develop as 1:1s happen.

Be prepared

Whilst some advocate for a strict agenda in a 1:1, it becomes easy to turn the meeting into a tickbox exercise and remove the hugely valuable human element. Whilst there are benefits to consistency and having a blanket agenda for every meeting, the truth is that an effective 1:1 is a meaningful discussion, and as such, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution – a strict agenda will merely pigeonhole the conversation.

I recommend having a loose template of default high-level talking points as a start – business and project updates, performance feedback, and notes of prior 1:1s, for example. Beyond that, your business is a moving vehicle – focus and direction can change, external factors can impact your business and ultimately, you don’t know what you don’t know. Leaving space in the agenda for both you and your colleague to add relevant points in advance of the 1:1 gives you a unique structure for each meeting that is more likely to deliver real value to everyone involved. It can be as simple as a shared Google Document that you both have access to and have equal responsibility for maintaining each month.

Be frequent

Technology businesses and even technology teams in non-tech-focusing businesses move at pace. Knowledge increases each month, sprints launch each fortnight, and the wider ecosystem changes and evolves by the day. It’s important then that 1:1s are in cadence with your team and business growth.

1:1 frequency is hugely subjective – much like an agenda, there’s no perfect frequency for 1:1s, but at least initially and in small teams, I recommend starting with fortnightly. As the team grows (in experience and responsibility), products launch and the technology in place matures, your 1:1 frequency can be adapted to suit. The frequency should be set at role level, rather than individual as this not only sets an expectation for anyone progressing into a new position but also avoids discrimination.

For larger teams and particularly those that have scaled quickly to introduce more hands-on technical roles, but not necessarily managers, it’s entirely understandable to have a scaling scheduled 1:1 frequency in line with seniority – having run some (small) polls on Twitter and LinkedIn, the typical frequency for a 1:1 is monthly, but this isn’t necessarily indicative of what is the best fit for your team.

Junior staff members are at an early phase in their careers, where learning happens quickly and mentoring happens in the moment. There’s also, understandably so, a degree of uncertainty on their part as to what life in a technology team is like – a frequent 1:1 gives consistency, shows investment from their senior or manager, and a commitment to supporting them in their development during their tenure in your team. During the 1:1, be prepared to lead the conversation with open questions and set small, measurable objectives (stick to SMART – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound) for the period until your next meeting, or for larger objectives, break them down into more manageable milestones.

Mid-level staff members are typically confident in the role and on a continued path of learning. Comfortable with your operating process and structure (or able to adapt to it relatively quickly), the person in this role will have either grown with your business or stepped into the role from a position elsewhere. In either case, they’ve accrued valuable experience and a 1:1 is an ideal, confidential time to share thoughts and ideas having worked in other structures at other businesses. Do not be naive enough to think that your process is perfect, a technology team is the sum of its members and each plays a huge part in its success and the overall environment.

Senior staff members are high-performing, high-knowledge individuals in your team. The senior role in a development team, in particular, tends to be different across every business, with each putting a different weight on senior developers serving as mentors and supporters in decision-making on top of being excellent hands-on operators when it comes to building great tech.

It’s likely that a manager is already in frequent sync and async contact with the senior developers placed into a team, but this should not replace a 1:1.

The above follows a conventional Junior→Mid→Senior setup, but parallels can be drawn regardless of how you structure development and engineering teams.

Be transparent

Whilst I don’t encourage sharing sensitive information, we all as employees would like to stay up-to-date with aspects of the business that we contribute so much time to each month. Some companies choose to do this as part of a Town Hall-esque event, with the same narrative delivered company-wide all at once, others opt to share that information as part of a 1:1 so that questions can be asked and answers given there and then.

Importantly, transparency can be proactive as well as reactive. As a manager, using the flexibility of the agenda to add in points relevant at the time, such as recruitment plans, budget changes and ongoing technical discussions at the board level (within reason) serve as great discussion points in a 1:1. As a manager, you gain early opinion and valuable insight and as a team member you feel involved in the process and in the know of the direction of your company.

These details do not always carry immediate relevance to the members involved in the 1:1 – going back to the be human point, each team member bought into the wider company and the mission, and for many, they have investment in the business beyond their own remit.

Be accountable

Effective 1:1s set measurable objectives, some of which will undoubtedly require time, direction, support, funding, or sign-off by you as the manager. This is to be expected, but beware when agreeing upon objectives that require the involvement of anyone outside of the staff member in the current 1:1, as it adds an additional dependency to the success that ultimately, the person for whom you’ve set the objective cannot always control.

Not meeting a target, missing a deadline, or being unable to finish a task – it sucks.

It is a (hopefully) rare event that any measurable objective can’t be met, and rarer yet that the blocking factor was your pending involvement, but in the instance that it does happen, the best thing to do is allow yourself to be held accountable. Crucially, any objective that becomes dependent on you in any way also becomes your objective. By failing to be accountable – blaming a busy executive diary, for example – you risk damaging your relationship with that team member and potentially the wider team. Expect someone comfortable with their 1:1 environment to hold you accountable, as they should.

Be actionable

Effective 1:1s end with action points – both for the manager and the staff member. Where it’s somewhat easier to come up with action points on the back of a testing month for a person, when the going is good, it’s easy to sail through a 1:1 and sign off with ‘all good, same again next month!’. The risk here is that this is the first step to coasting, instead, look at action points based off of:

  • What made it a good month, last month – what did we get right?
  • How do we keep momentum – what can we keep doing, or do more of?
  • How do we build upon the success of last month – what could we do better?
  • How can we make next month an excellent month for more people?

It’s amazing how many subtle changes come from these action points that collectively can make a significant difference to the experience of a wider team.


Understandably, a 1:1 isn’t just a once-a-month/every-other-month/quarterly conversation – it marks the end of the covered period and the start of the next. It serves as a chance to draw a line under the last X number of weeks and reinvigorate a team member with new opportunities and objectives.

When a 1:1 is completed, be sure to go back to the shared agenda and summarise each discussion point – both the structured items and the digressions that turn into a valuable conversation. Most importantly, write any agreed SMART objectives in the shared document and include the action points that apply to both you and them (remember: accountability).