Having a one-on-one meeting with your engineers is a great way to get to know them better, but it’s also an excellent opportunity for you to give feedback, share ideas, and address issues.
There are many common misconceptions about one-on-ones that make them seem difficult, time-consuming, or needless. These myths can lead you to avoid them altogether when in reality, they’re an essential part of being a strong and effective engineering leader.
This post will share with you 9 myths about one-on-ones that need to be debunked once and for all.
- Myth #1: One-on-one meetings are a waste of time and are ineffective.
- Myth #2: It is not necessary to make notes during one-on-ones
- Myth #3: One-on-ones should be a formal meeting
- Myth #4: Senior engineers don’t need one-on-one meetings
- Myth #5: One-on-ones are only necessary if there is conflict
- Myth #6: One-on-one meetings should be easy
- Myth #7: Managers can’t be biased during one-on-ones
- Myth #8: It isn’t good for an engineer to disagree with their managers during one-on-ones
- Myth #9: One-on-one meetings will breed unrealistic expectations.
Myth #1: One-on-one meetings are a waste of time and are ineffective.
One of the most common myths about one-on-one meetings is that they are a waste of time. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. One-on-ones are most effective when done correctly.
One-on-ones will be a waste of time if managers:
- Use it for reporting: Some managers use one-on-ones to report task status, which kills time needed to discover and assist in areas (team dynamics or personal roadblocks) ideal for one-on-one discussions.
- Use it as a survey tool: The purpose of one-on-one meetings is to help engineers develop in their roles. Using one-on-ones to talk about the business/company growth plans that don’t necessarily affect the engineer is sure a waste of time.
What you should do instead is to:
- Meet regularly and frequently: There have been debates across several communities of engineering managers on how often you should schedule one-on-one meetings. For example, at Zumvie, after speaking with 100+ engineering managers, the majority shared that they do one-on-one meetings bi-weekly. That is frequent enough to stay updated on issues with an engineer and how it affects the team.
- Establish an agenda: Any meeting without an agenda has greater chances of being a waste of time and ineffective. Establishing an agenda before the meeting is critical, and what is even more important is getting the engineer to contribute to the agenda. And you can do this by simplifying asking.
- Focus on the engineer: As you read earlier, the purpose of the meeting is to help engineers grow and develop. Then this point is clear as every aspect of the conversation should focus on the engineer.
- Create action plans and items: The effectiveness of a meeting is the outcome of the meeting. Creating action plans and items on things to work on is pivotal for fulfilling the purpose of one-on-one meetings.
- And guide, but don’t steer: Don’t steer. Instead, guide the conversation, ensuring that the engineer contributes their ideas, shares concerns, gives feedback, and voices their opinions, creating psychological safety.
Myth #2: It is not necessary to make notes during one-on-ones
Saying it isn’t necessary to make notes during one-on-ones is one of the most absurd myths about one-on-ones. Can you remember all the key points from your meeting yesterday? If yes. Great, but I highly doubt it.
During one-on-one meetings, when your engineer brings up an issue, which is important to them, the next best thing you can do is write it down. Writing it down shows that you emphasize what’s being said and will follow it up.
As Andy Grove said in his management book, High Output Management:
“Equally important is what “writing it down” symbolizes … the act implies a commitment, like a handshake, that something will be done. The supervisor, also having taken notes, can then follow up at the next one-on-one.”
If you don’t write anything down, you’re unlikely to recall what was said the next time you meet, let alone take action on it. Both of these are unforgivable sins for one-on-one meetings, as your engineer will lose faith in your ability to address their concerns. If that happens, they’ll stop bringing problems to you, and morale will suffer as a result.
Making notes can be challenging, especially organizing the notes on different engineers across several one-on-ones.
Myth #3: One-on-ones should be a formal meeting
This myth is not true at all. Therefore, it is essential to have the right mindset for one-on-ones. The meeting should be informal, with an agenda that is more open for discussion than a formal meeting.
As one-on-ones serve as a chance for engineers to open up, informal chats are a great way to foster openness. This includes discussing what they like, what they would like to do more, or what they feel could be improved.
Establishing this kind of rapport with your engineers will make your day-to-day easier and help you build relationships with them.
Myth #4: Senior engineers don’t need one-on-one meetings
A senior engineer has years of experience building software with specific technology stacks and tools. Looking at the years of experience and skillset, it may seem right to say that senior engineers don’t need one-on-one meetings. But that is not true.
The engineer being a senior doesn’t mean they don’t have goals, don’t need feedback, don’t want to share their ideas and so many other things that are best discussed during one-on-one meetings.
The structure and frequency of a one-on-one meeting with a senior engineer won’t be the same as with a junior engineer, as we shared from our conversations with 100+ engineering managers that junior engineers want a more structured one-on-one. But it is undoubtedly a fact the senior engineers need one-on-one meetings.
Myth #5: One-on-ones are only necessary if there is conflict
One-on-ones are essential for building relationships and identifying problems your engineers may be experiencing.
One of the most popular myths about one-on-one meetings is that they only happen when there is a conflict. But it’s not true at all!
- An engineer wanting feedback on certain things is not a conflict
- An engineer sharing their needs and ideas is not a conflict.
And these are things that go on during one-on-one meetings. Also, an engineering manager will not figure out certain conflicts, issues, and misunderstandings between team members except during one-on-ones.
You should see one-on-one as a way of being proactive in ensuring that your engineers are on the same page, growing, and happy in the roles.
Myth #6: One-on-one meetings should be easy.
When people think about an engineer and their engineering manager having a one-on-one meeting, they automatically assume it should be easy. However, this is a myth because the truth about one-on-one meetings is that they are hard to have.
There are a few reasons why it’s challenging to have a one-on-one meeting. First, one-on-one meetings require effective communication and feedback skills, challenging for most engineers new to management. Moreover, the complexity of dealing with issues that need to be discussed stresses both parties. Finally, they may be action items for the engineer, like in Myth #1, which will require time to do and give feedback aside from regular work.
Myth #7: Managers can’t be biased during one-on-ones
Indeed, managers should not show any bias while conducting one-on-ones, but it is also essential to consider the type of bias that a manager might have. For example, similarity bias – where managers tend to favor people similar to them whether in skill, look, feel, or background. This causes them to be more lenient when dealing with issues or conflicts relating to those individuals.
Myth #8: It isn’t good for an engineer to disagree with their managers during one-on-ones
A team’s success is tied directly to the ability of the team members to collaborate. For example, in business, engineering, or sports teams, certain situations may occur for two or more team members to disagree.
An engineering manager is part of the engineering team, so the idea that it is bad for an engineer to disagree with their manager is wrong. An engineer can disagree with their manager on action items, feedback, and issues during one-on-ones.
As a manager, you shouldn’t be surprised if your engineer disagrees with you during one-on-ones. It is good as it shows signs of good psychological safety within your team.
Myth #9: One-on-one meetings will breed unrealistic expectations.
Some engineering managers are hesitant to hold frequent one-on-one meetings because they don’t want to set unrealistic expectations. “How will I handle it if an engineer requests something that the company cannot provide?” they ask.
Your engineers can’t have everything they want—and they know that. But both parties need to communicate their wants and need to each other.
Your engineers should feel free to request what they require. They have a right to know what is and isn’t possible. And you should be able to receive these requests confidently—and communicate what they can or cannot get.
In this article, we shared and debunked 9 myths about one-on-one meetings, and the article concludes that most of these myths are just misconceptions or misunderstandings.