1:1 meetings between an engineering manager and a developer is a well-established practice in software engineering. What we don’t think of often, however, is the frequency of these meetings.
It’s widespread for engineering teams to select a meeting cycle that mirrors their culture or the team’s situation. Weekly meetings for a handful of direct reports and an active engineering manager. Bi-weekly for a more significant direct report count or a busy manager with loads on their plate. Monthly for companies not taking 1:1’s too seriously or a huge direct report count.
These rules are applied to all developers, set and then forget. There’s nothing wrong with that, and any frequency will by default mirror what works the best for the engineering manager.
But in case you are looking to optimize the frequency of 1:1’s, we will share a few pointers and insights in making the adjustments in this article. We will cover:
- What the data says
- Use 1:1’s as a tool to overcome company and team challenges
- Consider the developer
- You probably know how often to do 1:1’s
What the data says
Let’s start with some data. We asked on our Slack community for engineering managers, and this is what people reported:
Not a big sample size, but our chats with hundreds of engineering managers confirms this: the majority do 1:1’s bi-weekly.
Use 1:1’s as a tool to overcome company and team challenges
Now that we know where you might stand against the average engineering manager let’s consider why engineering managers do the 1:1’s and how that will affect the frequency of the meetings.
In general, 1:1’s are used as a tool to build a relationship with the direct report, make sure they’re happy, and retain them in the company. Engineering teams tend not to discuss work or sprint-related items on the calls (but read our article on the subjective nature of engineering practices), yet these calls still tend to increase productivity.
For one, the team member is happier with the manager. Second, the manager gets to understand any tension between team members and proactively solve them. Lastly, you might find out that a developer lacks certain skills for specific tasks and tickets.
So take a look at what’s coming and see if adjusting the frequency of 1:1’s would help you with any potential challenges. A good example is deadlines: if you have a very tight deadline upcoming that will cause stress and a possible burnout in the team, consider a weekly check-in to see how’s the team doing mentally or if there are any team tensions or issues that might cause delays.
On the other hand, if a long period of focused work is required that won’t be particularly stressful, and your team has been working together for a while, you can perhaps consider doing less frequent 1:1’s.
You should also be looking at the events in your company: are people being laid off, leaving the company, or is the overall company morale low for other reasons? Increase the frequency of 1:1’s to address these issues proactively.
Consider the developer
When deciding the frequency of 1:1’s with your developers, you should not apply a “one size fits all” approach. For junior developers, the 1:1’s will be much different from what you’ll discuss with the senior developers. The frequency will change, too.
Also, consider how new the developer is in the company. For the first few months, doing a weekly 1:1 is ideal.
Next, take into account the developer’s personality. Are they talkative? Do they want to speak to you weekly or bi-weekly? Do they come with many agenda items to your 1:1’s or just show up? You can even ask them: “how often would doing these 1:1’s be ideal for you?”
You probably know how often to do 1:1’s
As a final thought, it’s likely that you already know how often it would make sense to do 1:1’s with your team members and in your company’s situation. A good practice is to review it in a sort of retrospective from time to time and make the adjustments.