An engineering manager's guide to the one-to-one

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What do Google, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, Apple and Monzo all have in common? The humble one-to-one of course! A one-to-one is a meeting between two people. Sometimes its an informal catch-up between two colleagues, sometimes its a more formal meeting between a manager and a direct report.

One-to-ones are a big part of the culture here at Monzo, and those care-free early days fly by in a blur of coffee, smiles and Monzo related stories. For us engineering managers, the one-to-one holds even more significance, as they're one of the main tools we use to support and develop our world class engineers.

Engineering managers at Monzo regularly get together to share knowledge and learn from each other. Recently we discussed how we run our one-to-ones! So I thought I'd share the template I use to run one-to-ones with the engineers I manage within the Money Collective 💰

How I run one-to-ones with engineers 📜

One-to-one themes can vary. One week you could be setting goals, the next coaching someone on how to give constructive feedback. But the most common kind of one-to-one is the catch-up. Everything I've written here relates to running a regular catch-up or check-in type one-to-one.

Every engineering manager has their own way of preparing for and running one-to-ones. I use a simple template that I've made public. It reminds me to raise certain topics and gives the engineer space to add their own points for discussion.

My one-to-one template 📐

I've experimented with different tools (Google Docs, Trello) and have settled, for the time being, on Notion.

My template has three sections:

1️⃣ Session details and feedback

I give each one-to-one document a date and an emoji. The emoji shows whether our one-to-one was remote, in the office, or at a coffee shop or restaurant. When I've done too many one-to-ones with an engineer in the office, the emojis give me a visual nudge that we need to get outside for a more relaxed coffee, breakfast or lunch. Our small coffee budget covers this nicely ☕️

There's also a section for the engineers to give me feedback after our one-to-one's finished. Some do, some don't but I don't push them to use it if they aren't comfortable.

An example 1:1 document showing the time, location, session rating, and other feedback.

2️⃣ The shared agenda

This is where the action's at!

First up is the one-to-one theme. Examples include:

  • The manager handover

    Manager handovers happen rarely and they aren't technically a one-to-one. We use these when an engineer changes managers and they involve the engineer, former manager and new manager. Lara Hogan has an excellent blog post about manager handoffs.

  • Career conversation

    Career conversations happen a couple of times a year and help you and the engineer you manage to align on their motivations, goals and career aspirations.

  • Coaching session

    These happen as and when they are needed and will generally focus on one area e.g. asking for actionable feedback.

  • Goal setting

    Goal setting one-to-ones take place at least once a quarter and are one of the main ways we help engineers develop their careers.

  • General catch-up

    The common one-to-one that we all know and love.

An example 1:1 agenda, covering a catch-up, points to discuss, moving the needle, calling people out for recognition, work since the previous 1:1, and any challenges

Next are points for discussion. It looks like there's a lot on the agenda, but we rarely cover every point. They're mainly there as prompts if we're ever struggling for topics.

The sections we cover every time are:

  • Catch-up/Well-Being

  • Engineer's points to discuss

  • Moving the needle

  • Anything you need from me before our next one-to-one

These are the main areas that help me build a relationship with the engineer, gain insight into their wellbeing, talk about things that are important to them and help them develop.

The other agenda points are useful, and I usually raise them if we haven't covered them for a while.

I also like to encourage engineers to keep a log of their achievements (a brag list) and I've recently added in a recognition talking point as I'm trying to encourage more frequent peer feedback and recognition 🏆

3️⃣ Actions, next 1:1 theme and session notes

I use the bottom of the document to write notes during the one-to-one and to capture actions for myself and the engineer. During the one-to-one, we'll often agree we should focus on a specific theme or talk about something during our next one-to-one. I capture this here so I can quickly pick it back up when I am preparing next time.

One-to-one notes covering action items, notes for the next 1:1, and raw notes

I try to have a one-to-one every two weeks 🗓

My default cadence for one-to-ones is a one hour session every two weeks. Some engineers may prefer to have more frequent one-to-ones, so if this is case we schedule a 30 minute session every week.

All one-to-ones are booked in on a repeating schedule so that we don't forget to do them. I also colour code them RED in Google calendar so that I can quickly identify my one-to-ones and know that I can't move them or book over them.

Before the one-to-one ⏰

Every morning I make a one-to-one document for each of the engineers I'm meeting that day. I keep each document on the engineer's page so we can both see and access it.

For each document, I fill in the date, location and set the emoji. I check the previous one-to-one document and notes to determine the theme of the upcoming one-to-one, and I copy across the actions from the previous one-to-one to discuss with the engineer.

Finally, I add any topics I want to discuss e.g. feedback I've received, behavioural observations I've made, context I want to share etc. Then I share it with the engineer on Slack. I also ask the engineer to add anything they'd like to discuss and anyone they'd like to recognise to the agenda.

During the one-to-one 📝

We talk... a lot. Roughly starting with a catch-up, I like to know about the engineer's life outside of Monzo so I'll start with this, as well as getting a progress update on their work. As this progresses we naturally move onto the other points on the agenda. I *try* to listen more than I speak (a work in progress), take lots of notes and where appropriate, I'll ask questions, provide challenge and - if asked - offer my thoughts and opinions.

After the one-to-one ⚡️

I'll always try to spend some time after the one-to-one writing up actions, finishing notes and making sure I know what the theme of the next one-to-one is.

It generally only takes a few minutes, but it's worth it to help prepare for the next one-to-one. Future me always thanks me for this! As part of this I share the agreed actions with the engineer on Slack as a nudge to get them done.

That's all folks... 🎯

And that's how I run my one-to-ones. It's not perfect, but it works fairly well. I've had a good amount of positive feedback over time related to the structure and template, but I'm always looking to improve it with new ideas and suggestions.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, opinions, suggestions or take aways. Thanks for reading 🙏🏽