Monthly Archives: July 2012

Advice on running 1-2-1s

I’ve find 1-2-1s to be hugely valuable, I think it’s the most important thing I do.


How many times have you been in the situation where you were stuck on a problem and simply by starting to explain it to someone you solved the problem in your head? The point there is talking is a good thing in itself.

1-2-1s are also extremely good at catching problems early, often before you realised they were a problem. Retrospectives are great way of raising and solving issues, but they’re much more about the team than the individual. There are also a lot of things people are not comfortable saying in those kind of situations.

Here’s some simple advice for anyone running 1-2-1s:

1. Get the conversation flowing

It doesn’t really matter what about. Some people will be straight out of the gate venting all their ills (which is great!). Others find it harder to open up. There are lots of simple questions you can ask to get things flowing. Have an artillery of questions which come from different angles, which can also be useful if the conversation dries up.

Here’s some really simple ones I find work well. Try not to ask too specific questions:

  • How’s it going?
  • What have you been working on?
  • How’s the team getting on?
  • How have you been getting on since the last time we met?
  • Anyone pissing you off? Are you finding it hard to work with anyone?

2. Listen!

Once the person is talking try not to interrupt them or (something I’m really bad at) try to finish their sentences. When an interesting point comes up try responding with another question.

Often a conversation which starts as trivial will often evolve towards a pain point with the curious phenomenon that the person hadn’t even realised it was a problem until now. It’s important to try to allow the person to talk uninterrupted to allow this to happen.

Listen out for the issues. This is something that takes a bit of experience, but try to keep an ear out for (often subtle) things the person says which can be signs of greater concerns. When something does appear on the radar don’t interrupt, but when they’ve finished talking try and bring them back to it and see if there’s anything more to it.

If they’re ranting don’t stop them! It’s emotional and irrational by nature. Let them get it out of their system. Once they’ve calmed down they’ll be able to think more clearly.

3. It’s not your job to solve their problems, but help them to solve their own

Telling people what they need to do to solve a problem is generally not very effective. If you have thoughts, pose them as suggestions and ask what they think. Even better start by asking them what they think could be done about it?

No preaching!

4. Follow up

The next time you meet up (& this is why it’s important you are consistent with who you have your 1-2-1 with) follow up on the things you talked about last time and see if there’s been any improvement.