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What is the Purpose of One-on-One Meetings with Engineers?

These days, it’s crucial for businesses to be agile. But what about the people who make this agility possible? It can be hard to know how to give your engineering team the support they need without infringing on their autonomy. You can do this by holding regular one-on-one meetings with your engineers. 

One-on-one meetings are a great way to communicate with your engineers. One-on-ones can provide you with an opportunity to give feedback on their work or can be used as a way for you to learn about their career goals and development. One-on-ones are also a chance for you to address any concerns that team members may have raised about them in the past. 

In this article, to answer the question “What is the purpose of one-on-one meetings with engineers?” we will discuss 4 reasons why one-on-one meetings are essential, how often you should schedule them, what to discuss during the meetings and how to structure them.

What is a one-on-one meeting?

One-on-one meetings are standard practice in many organizations. It’s an opportunity for managers to regularly check in with their direct reports to ensure they are on the right track and have the support they need.

One-on-ones can be formal, but it is more important for it to feel comfortable and supportive than formal. One-on-ones also shouldn’t be used as a tactic for micromanaging but better understand the needs and challenges of direct reports so managers can help guide them.

4 reasons why one-on-one meetings are essential

The following are why it’s important to have one-on-one meetings with your engineers.

1. One-on-one meetings help build trust with your engineers

The fact your engineers know that now and then, there is a meeting dedicated to helping them succeed in their role individually and collectively as a team is a game-changer. 

Building trust is crucial to the job of an engineering manager. In this article – The mechanics of building trust with your engineering team, we shared three strategies to build trust. One of the strategies is to encourage feedback, which is done regularly during one-on-one meetings. 

You give feedback to help the engineer grow and, most importantly, receive feedback, creating psychological safety and making the engineer feel heard and valued.

“Generally, the more a team trusts its manager, the better the results will be, and the better the retention as well.” ― Mark Horstman, Author of “The Effective Manager

2. One-on-one meetings help in better retention of engineers

One-on-one meetings can help better retain engineers in this current trend of Job-hopping. The average software engineer switches jobs every two years, and it can be due to one of the following reasons:

  • They don’t like the tech stack or team
  • They have maxed out their learning at the given role/team/tech stack or feel stagnant
  • They don’t like the overall work culture of the company and are looking to change or explore
  • Or looking for better pay

This leaves a costly effect on an engineering team as they have to build with less human resources while spending time and money to hire the right fit.

During one-on-one meetings with your engineers, ask questions like “Are you happy working here?“, “What would make you leave this job for another?” “Are there any aspects of our culture you wish you could change?” give them space, listen to them carefully and help them based on their answers which can save an engineer you were on the brink of losing.

3. One-on-one meetings lead to a more productive engineering team

One major thing that affects a team’s productivity is workplace conflict or misunderstanding.

Engineering managers strive to keep their team on the same page, but as different individuals with different backgrounds and skillsets work together, issues arise.

One-on-one meetings serve as a perfect way to discover these issues and resolve them. Asking questions like:

  • How has your experience been working with a co-worker?
  • Has anyone on the team ever made you feel uncomfortable? What happened?

Helping you uncover issues and problems on the team which may affect the team productivity.

4. One-on-one meetings bring about better project management

Understanding the need of your engineers, resolving issues, and putting out fires will give you the necessary insights to better the team and project processes, which will improve overall performance, engagement, and morale. This means more innovative engineers and a better product. 

How often should you schedule these meetings? 

Regarding how often you should schedule one-on-ones, let’s start with some data. We asked this question on the Zumvie slack community for engineering managers, and this is what people reported:

Though the above is not a big sample size, our chats with hundred engineering managers confirm the poll result: The majority do one-on-ones bi-weekly.

Looking at the data, it’s clear where you might stand against the average engineering manager now; to help you decide how often you should schedule one-on-ones with your engineers, let’s consider some factors that might affect the frequency of these meetings.

Deadlines

If you have a very tight upcoming deadline that will cause stress and a possible burnout in the team, consider a weekly check-in (one-on-ones) to see how the team is doing mentally or if there is any tension or issue that might cause delays.

On the other hand, if a long period of focused work is necessary that will not be very stressful, and your team has been working together for some time, you may want to try less frequent one-on-one meetings.

Current events at the company

You should also be looking at the current events in your company: are people being laid off, are people leaving the company, or is the overall company morale low for other reasons? Increase the frequency of one-on-ones to address these issues proactively.

Consider the engineer

When deciding the frequency of one-on-ones with your engineers, you should not apply a “one size fits all” approach. The one-on-ones will be much different from what you’ll discuss with the senior engineers for junior engineers. The frequency will change, too.

Also, consider how new the engineer is in the company. For a new engineer, doing weekly one-on-ones is ideal for the first few months.

Next, take into account the engineer’s personality. Do they like to talk? Do they want to have the meetings weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly? Do they come with any agenda items to the one-on-ones or show up? and You can even ask them: “how often would doing these one-on-ones be ideal for you?”

What do you discuss in a one-on-one meeting?

Engineering managers sometimes struggle with knowing what to discuss during one-on-ones. The good news is that this is very easy to solve!

An excellent way to start is by first considering company-wide initiatives that might affect the engineer:

  • Personal development plans
  • Mentoring programs
  • Product roadmap that the engineer can influence
  • Got any company initiatives, such as hackathons?

Next, consider whom you manage:

  • Juniors – It’s ideal to focus on mentoring
  • Seniors – What should be discussed in these meetings is ideally to retain them, build relationships with them to know if they’re happy in the company or not.

The key with everything mentioned here so far is context to your organization and your engineers.

Check out our complete guide on one-on-one meetings to learn more about what to discuss during one-on-one meetings.

How to structure one-on-one meetings with your engineers?

Many engineering managers struggle with one-on-ones and sometimes think to cut out the meeting due to losing hundreds of hours yearly to ineffective one-on-ones.

We’ve spoken to 100+ engineering managers, and here is a summary in steps a good way to prepare, structure, and make the most out of every one-on-one meeting you have:

Before the meeting

As you ought to prepare before every one-on-one, it’s ideal you:

Set an agenda: One-on-one meetings are a collaborative effort, and agenda items will be based on concerns from you and your engineer. You can also ask one of these questions at least a day before the meeting:

  • “What do you want to discuss in our next one-on-one meeting?”
  • “What challenges are you facing?”

During the meeting

Begin with check-in on how they are feeling, asking questions like “What’s on your mind?” — this is to know if your engineer feels safe; they will say what they think you want to hear if they don’t.

Then get personal — ask them how they’re doing outside of work and check in with them on a personal level.

Discuss challenges they might be facing to understand better how you can help. When solving challenges, be sure they contribute significantly to the solution.

Recognize wins they have had to build and maintain motivation.

Create action items with timelines to make sure each meeting is effective.

Follow up on the action items in the next one-on-one meeting.

Making notes during the meeting

One thing that occurs during the entire one-on-one meeting is note-taking. Taking notes, whether shared (the direct report can see it) or private, is key to having effective one-on-one meetings to keep track of vital information throughout the entirety of the meetings.

Conclusion

The purpose of any meeting is to develop an outcome beneficial for all parties. So, when an engineer and a manager have a one-on-one meeting, the outcome should be something that benefits both parties – not just the engineers. And we can summarize these benefits for managers:

  • To understand the challenges and solutions that engineers face.
  • To be able to prioritize upcoming engineering tasks and projects.
  • To help set realistic deadlines for engineers.
  • To provide guidance and feedback on any questions engineers might have during their work, such as designing or implementing a system.

For engineers:

  • To obtain guidance from management so they can get updates on company goals and direction
  • To receive feedback from management so they can get constructive criticism on their work for improvement purposes

Written by Divine Odazie

December 29, 2021

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