Meetings require time which is a very valuable commodity in the startup world. The time you spend meeting with your direct reports needs to be particularly well spent. Otherwise, a 1:1 (one-on-one) can feel like you are just going through the motions. The Homebrew Guide to 1:1s helps managers with the process of establishing time worthy 1:1s that are beneficial for both sides. Like all our guides, this is a living document and we welcome your feedback at
A 1:1 is simply a private time for managers to check in with their direct reports. Specifically, the goal is to get a pulse on how the employee is feeling about her job, the company, and how she is doing in general. These check-ins are different than regular meetings because they represent a safe and confidential space between employee and manager.
,“If it’s safe enough to be overheard — it’s not the right content for a 1:1. Email it, send it in Slack, discuss among the desks, say it at a meeting, anything but a 1:1.”
Why are 1:1s so important for employees?
Have the full attention of their manager
Receive feedback from their manager
Discuss career development
Share feelings about their work and the company
Why are 1:1s so important for managers?
Build relationships with employees in a 1:1 setting
Discuss career opportunities and development
Receive feedback on employee morale, team morale and general feelings around engagement
Who sets/owns the agenda?
The employee should own the agenda for a 1:1. This meeting is for the employee and should be her time to bring up what is on her mind (obstacles she needs help removing, career development issues, etc.). 1:1s are not meant to be status update meetings. This can usually be done via other venues or channels.
What format should a 1:1 follow and who owns the format?
The employee drives the agenda and should consider the following:
Obstacles in the way of getting work done
Specific help on tasks
Feedback (managers should have feedback from peers and other cross functional leaders to relay to an employee)
If one of you can’t make it, make sure to reschedule. This meeting needs to be treated as a priority by both parties. If there’s nothing to talk about for one week it’s OK to skip the 1:1 if both parties agree.
Be sensitive to work schedules
Don’t schedule a recurring 1:1 during a time that may be stressful for one of the parties (9am Monday when you know traffic may be bad and you risk someone being late and frazzled). If you know someone isn’t a “morning person” try to improvise if possible.
1:1s don’t always have to be in the same conference room. Sit in a park or go to a nearby cafe.
Walk and talk. Some founders swear by this method. If you don’t need your laptop to take notes, this is a great way to connect and get some exercise.
I’m managing someone who is really shy/introverted. How do I get them to open up?
Even where the employee owns the agenda, the manager may have to step in and ask questions, especially where the employee is more reserved.
Some examples are:
How can I help with your career development?
Who can I introduce you to in my network?
Are there specific roadblocks you are running into? How can I help remove them?
What do you need from me to help you get your job done?
Are there any areas where you need resources/time from me?
Emergencies may come up but you need to stay present during your 1:1s.
Put away your phone during 1:1s (this applies to both parties).
Note taking is fine. and some people opt for notebooks vs. laptops. This will prevent staring at a computer the whole time.
If you are managing remote employees, the same format applies but you need to make sure you have the right systems in place. For a list of tips and communications tools when working remotely, please refer to: Homebrew’s
Video is better than a phone call for 1:1s so you can see other’s expressions
Make sure distractions are minimized on both ends
Timing needs to work for both parties - especially when time zones can be challenging
If you want to have an organized system to keep track of your notes from each 1:1, there are many tools to help. If you are a very small company and only managing 1-2 people, a Google Doc may be fine, but once you’re managing large teams, a purpose-built tool is essential for feedback gathering and follow up.
Make sure you and your direct reports are getting the most out of your 1:1s so no one feels as if time is wasted. With some basic preparation and tools as you scale, you can make these meetings effective and meaningful for both parties. Whether you are addressing employee motivation or career development, be present and remind yourself that this is a safe space for your direct reports to open up.