Introducing CTO Craft Labs: Learn how to get the most from your working relationships through planning and executing 1:1s and feedback sessions for the highest impact. Find out more and book tickets for the next session here. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Once upon a time, 1:1s were those ‘pesky’ things talked about rather than scheduled, or quick, HR form-filling exercises completed once every six months, never to be thought about again. 

Nowadays, most people know that 1:1s are not only important, they’re key to your team’s cohesion and morale and the business’ commercial success. Making sure they are effective – both for you and your reportee – is your responsibility, nay your duty, as a leader. But what happens if your experience in conducting them is limited or management training has been scant? Well, we’re here to help with our new, tailored workshops: CTO Craft Labs as well as sharing our advice in a series of blog posts. 

First up, don’t make the mistake of thinking that all the effort of 1:1s happens during the meeting. They are functional sessions that need prior thought, consideration, pre and pro-action. If that’s news to you, don’t worry, it’ll all become clear once you’ve read through our top three pitfalls and how to avoid them:

Pitfall 1. Freewheeling 

Appropriate for Olympics cyclists, not for professional development reviews. As Winston Churchill once said: “Fail to plan and you plan to fail.” While you don’t want to be too prescriptive, you do need an agenda. 

A structure will ensure you cover the things that you want your reportee to talk about, but it shouldn’t stop there. You also need to outline those things that will help you, as their manager, to support and nurture their goals and professional development, as well as what you expect from them in terms of performance (KPIs and objectives) and team participation going forward. 

Asking the right questions is key; while the session should feel comfortable and informal, it is not the time to wing it and wait to see what happens on the day. It is a collaborative effort, but as a manager, you need to steer the conversation to ensure it doesn’t get derailed. 

Pitfall 2. ‘Here’ and ‘now’ is not as good a time as any

In order for 1:1s to work well, both you and your reportee have to be in the right headspace. There will always be times when ‘another time’ might be preferable but don’t allow it to be postponed for too long (or indefinitely). If it goes ahead as scheduled, what you need to be mindful of however, is what might be impacting the mental (and possibly physical) health of your team member when they arrive at the session. 

If the wider team is in the middle of a major project and under pressure to deliver, or going through major change at team or organisational level, it might not be the best time to ask them to drop everything and discuss their goals. 

Likewise, (and while it depends on the culture of sharing that exists within your team/company), if the reportee has personal stresses on their plate, you need to find a balance between offering them the opportunity to discuss them and understanding that if their focus is elsewhere, the 1:1 may not be as productive as needed. Either way, involve your supervisee in the conversation – check in with how they’re feeling both a decent time before (i.e. a week) and during the session.

While, we would think this goes without saying, also ensure any 1:1s are held in an appropriate venue. In our time, we’ve seen professional development meetings take place in all manner of spaces – including public restaurants. If confidential details are being shared and/or performance and personal matters are being discussed, do not hold sessions where you may have an audience. 

Remember, people need the right environment to succeed, and it’s your job to enable that. 

Pitfall 3. Creating a hostile environment

The opposite of a safe space is a danger zone. Much is said of creating psychological safety – what Harvard Business School Professor Amy Edmondson defined as “a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking” – in a team environment, but such a mental security net needs to extend into the realms of 1:1s also. 

While there will undoubtedly be an underlying power imbalance between the supervisor and the supervisee, you want them to trust you – not only with sharing their positive emotions, but the negative ones too. And they need to trust that you’ll be able to hold space for those feelings, support them, and where necessary, take action. Without this, you won’t get: ‘the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth’. 

Language is crucial – avoid blaming, accusatory questions and think carefully about how you critique their performance. Criticism should be given, but only when constructive, not related to personality traits, and when there is a clear path to change. Remain curious and seek resolutions together; they, like you, are only human. Resilience levels vary and work relationships need to inspire mutual confidence. As a manager, you have to provide an appropriate level of protection and knowledge that you have their best, professional interests at heart.


If you or your CTO / technology lead would benefit from any of the services offered by the CTO Craft community, use the Contact Us button at the top or email us here and we’ll be in touch!

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