Apr 27, 2021 | by Budi Tanrim
One-on-one guide for individual contributors
I felt awkward when I sat face-to-face with my manager. It was my first one-on-one.
My head ran through series of questions: Should I give an update on my project? Can I share my personal issue here?
Many studies found how helpful one-on-one is1. Some list down 101 questions that managers can ask2. But little guidance for the individual contributor on how to utilize this session. Here’s my growing list:
Get to know your manager. Ask about their experience. Observe their strengths and current challenges are. It’s not only the manager who needs to know you. You must know your manager too. Observe and understand their strengths so you can learn from them. If you shared the same challenge, ask your manager to work together on it. It’s fun to have someone who shares the same challenge and figure it out together.
Share your personal development. Discuss skills you want to learn or grow. This way, your manager can help to find the project that aligns with your personal development. Or connect you with people she knows. This can build space for you to ask for feedback, which leads to the next point.
Ask for feedback. Do you want to grow? Then ask for feedback won’t hurt. The manager can be reluctant to give feedback. They might worry about hurting your feeling. It’s good if you can open this up. You can start broad, “In our last project, do you have any observation on what I can improve?” Then go specific if you want.
Discuss the work dynamic. Each manager has their own style. For some managers, an update via chat by the end of the day is enough. For others, they might dislike it. You can discuss this and iterate along the way. At some point, you might feel the manager is a bit micro-managing or way too loose in the project. After you get to know each other, you can ask the manager to adjust the dynamic.
Share blockers. Your manager is there to help you remove the roadblock. Prepare the example before the session. Explain the story and be ready to take action on it. You and your manager might not figure the perfect solution right away. But, at least leave the meeting with a question or action point you and your manager will act on. Then circle back again next time.
Share your frustration. Sometimes, it’s unclear what the blocker is. You were probably frustrated or confused. It’s okay to share that. But don’t share it with a mentality to whine. Share it to solve this frustration, so you can make an impact with the team.
Share your ideas. Perhaps you have been observing a repeated problem in your team or in your company. You also have an idea about it. You can explain the situation and propose a solution to it. But remember, your goal is to solve the problem, not to force your solution.
Care about your manager. A manager is a human, like you. They also face struggle. Ask questions like, “What frustrates you lately?” It’s an excellent way to build trust too. I don’t mean you should be manipulative and be an ass-licker. Be genuine and offer help when possible. In the end, we’re all want to do the best for our users.
Don’t share your work update. Use your one-on-one to reflect together, exchange some thoughts, and build a working relationship. Reporting your work is the most useless thing. You can share it outside of the session.
Anything to add?
If you are an IC, you can contribute to the one-on-one session.
- See Gallup: 09 From Boss to Coach: The Manager’s Role in Employee Engagement ↩
- Jason Evanish (2014):101 Questions to Ask in One on Ones ↩