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How to Have More Effective One on One Meetings with Your Developers

July 8th, 2021
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Effective Meetings
Engineering Motivation
Software developer performance metrics
Software developer productivity metrics
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Is this 30-minute meeting actually useful for this person? Is it time well spent?

Whether you’re leading 10 engineers or a large team, there may have been a time you wondered about this, when sitting in a one-on-one. Supporting and coaching them is one of your main roles as a manager, and it’s a big indicator of team performance and engagement. In fact, teams whose managers run consistent one-on-one meetings are 3x more likely to be engaged than those who don’t have 1-on-1s. 

Since you’re here, it means you want to become a great engineering manager, eager to improve the quality of 1-on-1 meetings. You want to be able to offer informed feedback, based on data, recognize performance, and create concrete goals for engineers to support their ongoing growth. 

This article will take you through the benefits of 1 on 1 meetings, and how to prepare and lead these meetings with your developers so you can achieve these goals. We’ll also show you how development analytics like Waydev’s are becoming essential in holding more meaningful, data-backed and effective one on one meetings with your developers.

One-on-One Meaning & Benefits

One-on-ones are private, safe and open-ended conversations that a manager has with individual contributors in your engineering team, on a (hopefully) regular basis. It’s probably the most powerful tool you have as a manager to learn about them, understand their quirks and perspectives, and coach them as they need. 

As research reports show, frequent one-on-ones with employees are indispensable because they make individuals feel more trusting in their leaders, more motivated and inspired in their work, more comfortable bringing up difficult issues.

What’s the Purpose of 1 on 1 Meetings? 

If daily standups are great check-ins for teams to identify the status of a sprint, see what’s in progress and see what work is in review, one-on-ones are a totally different story.

The purpose of a 1-on-1 is to build meaningful, productive relationships with your direct reports, while doing your best to work side-by-side to reach their goals within the organization. 

Maybe you’ve used one-on-ones as a time to build rapport, discuss specific reports, or mentor individuals on a particular challenge that they’re facing. Perhaps your one-on-ones are a bit about career goals and skill development. Maybe you’ve asked your report to guide the one-on-one by bringing a list of questions, concerns, and ideas to the meeting.

So you know already that a one on one conversation is always about them. There are no status updates in 1-on-1s, only an opportunity to show your commitment and support. 

In an effective 1 on 1 meeting, you communicate and grow positive relationships, while giving people a safe space to vent, share concerns or their enthusiasm for a win. 

In short, these meetings can do exactly what employees need and want:

What Is the Most Effective Use of a One-on-One Meeting? 

Reliable and consistent communication is linked to higher engagement. It’s still a hot topic and it’s what employees want from an open and approachable manager.

But what leads to engagement is a sense of psychological safety – being able to speak up, share different opinions, be themselves without fear of judgment or repercussions. This is extremely important to developers, as they’re more likely to be introverted or reluctant. 

By seeing them as people first, you can accommodate their uniqueness and foster this sense of psychological safety, while managing them toward performance and a healthy workplace culture.

The most valuable uses of one-on-one meetings with developers usually include: 

One-on-ones also help if you want to showcase the work they’re doing to senior leadership. Yes, we’re talking about one of the hardest jobs you have as a manager: Advocacy. 

Your engineers need you to be their advocate. And Development Analytics is perfectly suited to help you. Waydev, our dev analytics tool for engineering teams, automatically measures performance to provide you with meaningful data to back up your narratives. 

You can use the Developer Summary to showcase core performance metrics to upper management. This applies to when you want to communicate:

See how Waydev’s Developer Performance features help you visualize work patterns and progress over time, and quickly spot and eliminate blockers that are holding your team down.

Developer Summary set of productivity metrics for software engineers and developers with Waydev

One on One Meeting Agenda: What Do You Talk About in a 1-on-1? 

If there’s a 1:1 meeting agenda, it’s usually established by both. You’re there to listen to people talk about whatever it is on their minds – accomplishments, concerns, career development, hobbies, anything that’s important to each of them. 

We say “a one on one meetings’ agenda”, but it’s nothing fancy. It’s not even mandatory to prepare something. Still, try to make the best out of these conversations. 

An agenda for a 1-on-1 talk can be updated regularly and can follow this basic flow:

Before 1 on 1: How to Prepare

Maybe you don’t quite know how to effectively manage one-on-one time. You might’ve started chipping away at setting goals for one-on-ones. Maybe you don’t want to micromanage, nor to assume things are going fine.

To get on the fine line between over communicating and not communicating at all, take a look at some best practices when it comes to preparing for a 1-on-1. 

1. Keep One-on-One Meetings Consistent 

When it comes to frequency, there’s no standard schedule. Nonetheless, high-performing development teams benefit more from consistent communication. That is why effective one-on-one meetings tend to be weekly or biweekly or, in some cases, monthly.

For newly hired or junior developers, more regular meetings are better (weekly), and they could last 60-90 minutes. For more senior or long-term employees, these meetings can be shorter (30-45 min) and be held biweekly or even monthly. 

While consistency is key, you should experiment with the duration and frequency of one-on-one meetings with employees, depending on their workflow and feedback. See what works for them best. 

What’s important is to always make time for them and block these meetings in your calendar. 

Try to keep these regular 1-on-1s at the same time, on the same week day, to give your team members a sense of predictable progress.  

Canceling or delaying these talks gives the impression that your team members are not important. This can critically affect morale and productivity at individual and team level, and lower retention rates.

One important thing here: schedule meetings according to your engineers’ activity. Developers are most productive working in big blocks of time. By using a development analytics tool, you can set one-on-ones according to valuable data. This way, you’ll enable a nondisruptive flow and talk outside their golden hour in terms of productivity. 

Waydev provides you with activity heatmap metrics (the Time Card feature) to know exactly when it’s the right moment for your team members to have individual meetings.

time card activity heatmap metrics

2. Prepare Relevant Talking Points

One-on-ones are about your team members. But as a manager you surely have some things in mind to address, especially when you know your developers’ patterns, behaviors, goals and progress. It’s the right moment to talk about work trends, performance, team collaboration, short and long-term goals, professional development path, and management improvements.

One key aspect to remember is that one-on-ones lead to well-done performance reviews. So, you cannot hold them without preparation.

To hold meaningful one on one discussions, development analytics are the best help for engineering managers. You can easily leverage data on developer’s progress to lead more actionable, specific meetings and performance reviews – without their manual input.

Waydev, for instance, offers you a data-driven story of how everyone is doing. The developer productivity metrics and reports were designed to support engineers’ desire to see their progress and contributions to their team. 

At the same time, it’s a powerful tool for managers who want to prepare before one-on-one meetings with developers.  

It’s true that our dev analytics tool helps you with a quantitative review of work trends and patterns to get the full picture of the what. This way you can interpret data to get to the why, and have more targeted conversations in one-on-ones.

One on one meeting developers

3. Use Metrics to Benchmark Developer’s Progress

When you’re providing constructive feedback, you need to benchmark developer’s progress against job expectations and goals. Without data, you cannot support your narrative well enough to address the real challenges and fully support their ongoing growth as they need. 

We’re back to analytics because it’s the most effective way to direct one-on-ones based on data instead of gut feelings. And most tech professionals love communicating through data. 

You can schedule a live demo to see how Waydev’s Developer Summary helps you with a clear view of an individual’s core metrics, with trends and averages relative to those of their team. It includes a view of a developer’s output – useful in getting a stronger sense of how they perform in their code-level activities. 

Over time, this will help you and your team members visualize work patterns and progress over time, which can be useful information to drive conversations in one-on-ones – for both your developer and you as a manager.

See how Waydev works for you here. 

Development Analytics tool Waydev for measuring developer performance automatically

During 1-on-1: How to Lead Effective Meetings

A recent Gallup study has found that the quality of management is highly linked to engagement and performance. More specifically, managers who are highly successful share these traits: 

That is why successful teams have great managers who know their greatest role is to mentor and coach them, working side-by side to help them achieve their goals. 

But in order to get results, you need to support your narrative with consistent action. And it starts with leading effective one-on-ones. 

While there’s no perfect one on one meeting template, adopting and experimenting with these following approaches in your 1-on-1s will go a long way no matter the team size or environment.  

1. Start the Check In With a Win

One-on-one meetings are one of the best moments to validate efforts and praise developers for their performance. 

A good start of a conversation is actually that – a win or a milestone in their work. Helping a junior developer, delivering a project in time, or paying down technical debt –  both the obvious and the less-flashy work that your developers put in deserve to be recognized. Dev analytics can show you such positive trends and work patterns that might go unnoticed otherwise. 

By starting with a positive check in or word of encouragement, your team members will feel acknowledged and motivated to actively participate in your meetings.

Of course, you can share more wins and positive reviews of their efforts, if that’s the case, along with constructive feedback on aspects of their progress.

2. Ask Them the Right Questions

One of the toughest and, at the same time, most important responsibilities in effective engineering management is asking great questions and communicating actionable answers.

While some developers will feel comfortable enough sharing their thoughts, their feedback or difficulties at work, many of them won’t. That’s the moment when your understanding and initiative come in, to steadily build a foundation of trust.

By asking open-ended questions, such as: How are you feeling today? Are you facing any difficulties or challenges? What do you think it’s going well in your role right now?

At the same time, you can use data to really ask the right questions depending on each unique individual. Analytics can help you with that. By providing a visualization of a developer’s progress across core activity metrics – that’s helpful to you, but especially to them. 

A developer’s summary is useful in triangulating trends across an individual’s metrics to answer your questions before going into a 1:1 or quickly pull up a report that serves as a starting point for more productive conversations that put your team members first. 

Clear, objective data leaves no room for unconscious biases or negative feelings – only for understanding and improvement, which are essential in effective one-on-ones with developers.

3. Listen More to Better Problem Solve

While mentoring and coaching is more about taking concrete action and providing constructive feedback to your team members, active listening is the other important side of the management coin. 

One-on-ones put employees first. This means these meetings are theirs to use as they see fit, be it to vent, share concerns, provide feedback to management, while you should take (or know when to take) the backseat and listen actively. 

Being their leader means you should work side-by-side, not dominate the conversation in a 1 on 1. By listening more and knowing when to ask questions is how you learn a lot from and about each of your developers. 

Moreover, this way you are able to keep their ownership of work and help them find optimal solutions to their problems.   

4. Follow Their Goals and OKRs

Short and long-term engineering goals and OKRs should be a vital part of the ongoing talks with your team members. 

Part of the reason is that one on one meetings are crucial to annual performance reviews, since they follow the progress of each individual contributor closely over a period of time. 

These individual goals need to be set, measured and evaluated frequently, in order to drive strategy execution, make the right decisions and allow people to enjoy work. 

Strive to use one-on-ones as a safe space to discuss progress, potential improvements, and challenges that people are facing along the way. These talks are essential in getting a clearer  sense of what’s happening in an engineer’s work and life.    

Frustrations or difficulties in achieving their goals could be more easily addressed and solved  when followed closely. Without being connected to what’s going on, it can be challenging to have timely, meaningful talks with your team members.

Make use of meaningful metrics to track developers’ performance against benchmarks, so it’s easier to follow progress and iterate when needed. Help them understand what the data shows and how they can achieve their goals, by also taking their feelings and well-being into account. 

Developer Stats - PR

5. Identify Coaching and Training Opportunities

Being clear and consistent with expectations, encouraging team members’ development, and recognizing good work are elements of excellent management. 

Nowadays, as an engineering manager you can better understand and visualize how each of your team members are contributing to the codebase, how they collaborate and cooperate. As a result, you can better identify valuable cross-training, up-skilling and coaching opportunities for each individual, according to work trends and habits. 

By having relevant data at hand, you can gain a better understanding of such work patterns in your team before you enter a one-on-one. 

This way, you can spend less time talking about what’s going on and more time talking about why, which might shine a light on opportunities where you could help them. 

Learn how to recognize and understand work patterns in our team – access our Engineering Managers’ Handbook

one on one talk management

After 1-on-1: Use Data to Lead Effective 1-on-1s 

1. Take Notes and Document the Progress  

As you keep meetings consistent and discuss both current work and recap the past weeks (in a broader context than of a sprint), you both should take notes during or after each talk. 

These notes could take any form you agree on – a shared document, a management app, a dev analytics platform that shows the relevant data in a period of time. Waydev, for example, allows automatic reporting on activity over time, so it’s much easier to take clear notes of one-on-ones without missing any information. 

It might be also useful to keep notes of the review or ideas brought up in one-on-ones, as well as those you’d like to discuss in future meetings, so that none gets lost along the way. You can more easily take notes based on the developer’s progress reports.  

It also takes the burden of self-reporting off your developers, to save them time to focus on work. 

effective one on one takingnotes

2. Recap and Follow-up

At the end of your conversations, remember to recap the next actionable steps, ask if there’s anything on their mind that you didn’t cover (and address them), and share notes.  

As a leader, you should be thinking about people’s day to day and year to year, helping them find a trajectory that matches their goals. 

With data at your hands, you can better identify work patterns, know when something is off or when work is progressing. You can become more confident when offering assistance or when bringing up a discussion about something you see in the developer’s activity over time.

One-on-one meetings between engineers and managers

3. Use Analytics to Save Time While Boosting Developers’ Growth

In one-on-ones, look together at their work trends. Help them get comfortable with the data and how it can be used to visualize patterns and recognize wins. As they get comfortable, you’ll likely begin to see how they will take initiative and come to you with the data to tell their story better and make more specific requests from you.

It’s an ongoing process for their ongoing growth. And by working together, you can increase engagement and motivation, and a strong foundation of trust and collaborative success. 

Gain access to valuable insights on your teams’ activity, wherever you are. Enjoy customized reports and measure performance metrics that help your developers feel and work at their best.

Request a demo or try Waydev for free and learn how to lead more effective one-ones.

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