5 ways to get the most out of one-on-ones

5 ways to get the most out of one-on-ones

A framework for keeping one-on-ones organized and productive

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What’s a great one-on-one?

I’ve worked in people operations for over a decade, currently as head of HR for Coda, and previously at Box. And I’ve discovered that one of the most over-looked rituals in a team is how they handle employee-manager 1-on-1s.

The problem: Stale, standard meeting notes → ineffective one-on-ones

At most companies, one-on-one docs look very similar, no matter what kind of support the team member needs — they tend to be one doc with a running log of notes added every meeting.

I call these the “forever-scroll” one-on-one: a doc with the date of the most recent session, followed by notes, then
session date, and
notes. Usually about 60 pages long.

Somewhere in the middle of this endless stream of text is a some meaningful performance feedback, a goals review, a key insight, or a list of quarter-end accomplishments. Eventually, the doc becomes an ineffective tool for reflecting on growth and progress made toward goals.

A story from Square: How Jenny transformed one-on-ones

moment was when our team met Jenny Emick, a Design Lead at Square. For context, Square is one of Coda’s largest customers, so we met Jenny in a customer meeting. She described how despite having weekly one-on-ones, her team felt that they only got meaningful coaching and feedback during the formal biannual performance review cycle. Jenny noted that the feedback was often there, but lost in the forever-scroll meeting doc.

Jenny knows the power of systematic rituals, so she decided to try a new approach. She templatized her own one-on-one strategy, with attention to a specific set of principles that you can

Her method spread quickly through Square and is now used by dozens of Square managers.

The solution: A personalized approach to partnerships

Drawing from Jenny’s insights and perspectives, we wanted to make sure that personalized approach was front-and-center. I suggest five ways to have more productive one-on-ones, with the
being the first and most important step. The remaining four sections are a bit of a choose your own adventure to ensure a customized experience for each member of your team.

This template follows two primary principles:

1. Every manager<>employee relationship is unique:
As is each pair. This doc is structured to guide this “pair” to find their specific way of working together. And kicking the relationship off with a partnership agreement sets expectations and boundaries that allow for more authentic engagement and collaboration.
2. The right place for everything:
This doc divides each aspect of the employee-manager relationship into pages. It’s amazing how much this little touch can lead to much more meaningful relationships. You’re constantly reminded of the important topics you decided to cover. Feel free to hide any pages you agreed to not cover (at least for now).

This template has now been implemented throughout Coda, and much like at Square, it spread quickly as a much better approach to one-on-ones.

5 ways to get the most out of one-on-ones

I’ve broken the template into 5 pages, each focused on a different support strategy to help optimize your one-on-one meetings. Below is a list of pages with a note about how we use them. Feel free to adapt our pages or add your own to fit your needs.

: This is the most important step.
Define how you want your unique partnership to work, including the meeting cadence, the types of topics you’ll cover, and who’s responsible for what aspects of the session.
Structure and capture your primary meeting notes here. Take time to design how you want each meeting to run.
This is the page where you’ll spend the most time.
Capture individual OKRs and personal goals.
Agree on personal and professional goals. Keep a list of learning resources, conferences, classes etc to help with growth.
Record proud moments and snippets of praise from others for encouragement and growth.

No matter what is needed during one-on-ones, this template should facilitate a more efficient, clear way of providing support. We now have hundreds of employee and manager ‘pairs’ using this template at Coda and the impact has been amazing to see. Hope you like it!


I received a lot of amazing feedback and questions as I was putting together the doc. Here are a few highlights:

Love the partnership agreement - is that a typical process?
What’s the best structure for the meeting notes? What kind of questions should be posed in a one-on-one?
How often should the Review Goals and Track Development check-ins happen?
Who owns the agenda?

Thank you to everyone who reviewed and help shape this doc—I appreciate all of your feedback: Sarah Lovelace, Tawni Cranz, Rushabh Doshi, Lenny Rachitsky, and Susan Alban.

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