Efficient one-on-one agenda

Written on March 27, 2021

One-on-ones (1:1s) are a great way to keep your manager informed on your projects, ask for help on blockers and building rapport.

Depending on your manager’s management style, the structure of your 1:1s could vary. This is especially true when you’ve switched jobs and working with someone different.

But there are some traits that are likely similar with all managers. They are there to help you, they are busy and they should be informed of the work you’re doing.

Throughout my career, I’ve found that having an agenda helps maximize the efficiency of my 1:1s with managers.

In this post, I wanted to break down the template that I use when putting together my agenda for my 1:1s and explain how I use it to have efficient 1:1s.

Agenda template sections

The agenda template that I use has five sections. While it might sound like a lot of sections and you might conclude a lot of time is needed to cover all the information.

All my 1:1s are usually scheduled for only 30 minutes and I often have 5 minutes to spare. Which means I have enough time to provide the information that my manager needs and enough time to get what I need.

The five sections are,

  1. Discussion
  2. Goals/Rocks
  3. Manager’s section
  4. Highlight reel
  5. Made me think

And this is what the template looks like,

Agenda template

Section 1: Discussion

In discussion section, I have a point or two. This is where I put the most pressing things that I’d like to talk about.

I will share about any blockers I’m currently facing and need help with. Ask for life advice if I’m facing a mid-life crisis type moment, or discuss plans for upcoming paid time off (PTO).

Underneath each bullet point, I’ll usually add a sentence or two for context and then I’ll ask a question because I need something from my manager.

The key here, is to make sure you think about the outcome you seek and let that inform your question. The more concise you are with the outcome you need, the clearer your question should be to your manager.

Section 2: Goals/Rocks

This section, I share updates about my current goals. At my current company, we work in quarters or 3-month long projects called rocks taken from the book, Traction.

The purpose of this section is to give a quick overview of my progress and indicate whether I’m currently on-track to meet my commitments or off-track and I need some help.

To communicate the status and progress of these projects, I use a three-column table.

Rock table

In column 1, I have each goal listed.

Column 2, shares the status as on-track or off-track with a colored background. Green for on-track and red for off-track.

Column 3, is a bulleted list of the progress I’ve made since our last 1:1.

In choosing this format, my manager is able to quickly glance and see the progress of the rocks but also immediately know when her attention is needed.

Section 3: Manager’s section

This section is for my manager to share any talking points that they want to bring to my attention during our 1:1.

It’s just a blank section where it has my manager’s name and the word, section as a heading.

Section 4: Highlight reel

The idea behind the highlight reel is something I’ve picked up from my past co-workers. This section is a place where I celebrate the success of my team by sharing about the work we’ve done outside of major projects or to praise my co-workers contributions to my manager.

As for the name, I chose it because in a past life, I pursued a career in animation. In the animation industry, you send off your reel to prospective job openings. In the reel, you would highlight only the best of your past work in hope in showing your future colleagues your competence.

While this section is the lengthiest at times, it is the one section that brings me a lot of joy to fill out.

What it forces me to do is slow down and reflect on the work that’s been done on my team in the past week.

We use Jira at our company to keep track of work, and in filling out the highlight reel, I review all the tickets in the current sprint to share the really cool stuff my co-workers and I have completed.

I also get to see the work of my co-workers and so I call it out to my manager when I see something worth celebrating. The reason for this is my manager isn’t my co-workers’ manager. But my manager is a leader in the company and so I want to make sure they are aware of my co-worker’s valuable contributions.

This section is also made up of bullet points and what I like to do is link to the Jiras in which the work was tracked in. The reason for this is, my highlight reel only gives them a glance of the work. By linking to the Jira, should my manager decide to learn more, they can click on the link to get more context.

Section 5: Made me think

This last section is optional. I don’t always have it on my weekly 1:1 agendas. But when I do, it highlights either an aha moment or some productivity tip that I’ve uncovered about my workflow and I want to share it with my manager.

A recent aha moment I shared was how I observed that the perceived size of a problem and the effort of the solution can be disproportionate as long as the value is captured and the problem is solved for the person who has it.

Where I work, we all nerd out about productivity tips, so often when I find something that helped me improve my workflow, I’ll be sure to share it in this section. Like how I use the Eisenhower matrix with my personal task manager.

Here’s how I use my agenda

Now you know what sort of agenda that I use to have efficient 1:1s, I thought I’d share my workflow for how I use it to have efficient 1:1s.

Before the 1:1

I try to practice asynchronous communication at work as much as possible. And while 1:1s are synchronous, the agenda is not.

I put together the agenda a little more than 24 hours before my 1:1. So if I have my 1:1 on Friday, I’ll put together the agenda on Thursday morning.

I keep an empty template in Google Docs and when it’s time to create an agenda, I just make a copy and fill it out.

Then, I’ll email the agenda to my manager.

This is so that it gives my manager a chance to prepare for what we might be talking about during our 1:1.

It also gives her a chance to go through every section and provide answers asynchronously as comments.

The nice thing about using Google Docs is that I get an email notification when I’ve got comments in the agenda. This allows me to check in on her feedback ahead of our meeting and if I feel like I have sufficient feedback, I can offer our 1:1 time back.

During the 1:1

Since working at a remote company, all our meetings are via Zoom.

The way I like to hold our 1:1s is by sharing my screen and the agenda. That way both of us can see the agenda and I can guide our conversation.

As we’re talking, I’ll usually write down notes in the agenda.

The purpose in writing down notes is to make sure her and I are in agreement in what we spoke about but also to act as a reference for at a later time.

Being a dad of three—I’m lucky if I can remember what I ate for breakfast.

After the 1:1

After my 1:1 I usually leave 5-10 minutes afterwards on my calendar to wrap up the meeting. Once my manager and I hang up, I’ll usually review my agenda and notes and fill in any additional details I might’ve not recorded.

I’ll also take my agenda and figure out if I need to turn items into next steps either in Jira or my personal task management app.

Communicate to get what you need

While this agenda helps me and my manager to have efficient 1:1s. I don’t expect it to be a one size fits all sort of thing.

Your experience with your manager will likely be different than mine.

But I hope you do find things that you could take away and try in your meetings.

Remember, your manager is there to help you. The best way to get the help you need is to make sure you communicate with them in a concise manner.

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