Rethinking one-on-one meetings

Its easy to skip a blog post about how to run meetings – yawn – and skip on to the
more exciting posts about some new shiny tech topic. Don’t make the same
mistake I did. This is a quick read and will change your working
life.

Deb did a blogpost a while ago about how to run a more efficient 1×1
meeting. To be honest, I saw the post and skipped over it “Dont have
time to read that, and anyway, I’ve done lots of 1x1s – each unique to
needs of each individual, and they go just fine, thanks anyway”.

Then Coop, in his own polite understated way, told me we were going to
try this format. It worked great for Coop’s 1×1 with Armen, and he
thought it might improve Coop’s 1×1 with me. Our first meeting took
longer then usual, but that was each of us getting used to the
changeover. The second meeting, and all meetings since then, have been
much shorter than usual, and far more productive for both people!

Maybe its just something unique to coop and myself?

But it felt worth trying with a few other people, which I did over the
next couple of weeks. At that point, I was totally convinced. We now use
this for all my 1x1s in RelEng.

Why does it work so so well?

  • Set the agenda a day in advance
    • too many 1x1s are impromptu, unprepared and therefore inefficient.
    • making sure the agenda is *not* set by the manager is important; this
      means people can make sure what they need is covered, and the meeting is
      productive to them.
  • Sorted by time
    • the past: Talking about what you just accomplished helps set context,
      and helps even the most modest person discuss recent successes.

    • the present: Whats on your mind right now, typically blockers.
    • the near future: plans for the upcoming week help ensure both people
      agree priorities are right

    • the “far” future: Keeping the current work in context of a person’s
      career path, and in context of a group’s quarterly goals is tricky. Its
      easy for this to get pushed to the side in the day-to-day rush of work,
      but this format helps keep everyone aware of.
  • Require video
    • its easy to get distracted in our constant-interrupt environment, and
      the video helps keep people focused on the person they are talking with.
      This in turn helps the meeting run much quicker.

    • some “remoties” resisted using video at first – “too intrusive” was a
      common reaction. However, it only takes a couple of meetings this way
      before everyone sees how 1x1s with video run more smoothly than
      phone-call-only. Facial cues and body language visual cues are super
      important – just ask anyone who’s got into a misunderstanding on irc or
      email!

    • this 1×1 can be the most direct human contact “remoties” with the
      rest of Mozilla all week. Video is a great reminder that the voice on
      the line is a real human, and some of the saved time at the end can turn
      into seemingly-unimportant-but-actually-vital non-work chitchat. The
      kitchencams are popular for a similar reason.

    The brilliance of Deb’s approach is that it is super low-tech and super
    easy to use. As engineers, we’re always tempted to look for technical
    solution to any problem, but the few attempts I’ve seen so far have all
    added complexity and got in the way. By contrast, Deb stepped back and
    revisited the essence of the original problem from a completely different
    perspective and I love what she came up with.

    Try her suggestion. If it doesnt work for you, go back to what you did
    before, no harm done. But maybe, just maybe, you will love it, and find
    yourself giving a silent “Thank you, Deb.” after every 1×1, just like I do.

    [UPDATE: Ben Horowitz just blogged about this also. joduinn 04-sep-2012]

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