The Extreme Importance of One-on-One’s (or 1:1s)

by | May 23, 2023

If it’s not obvious from the name of my company – People First Operations – I’ll just say that a regular 1:1 between a manager and their direct reports is extremely important. And if it seems odd that I would make such a statement because that’s already well-known, then I am truly ecstatic and you can probably stop reading this! But actions do speak louder than words and sadly, I’ve talked with many in the workplace who have said that the actions of their manager have not backed up those words above. So to further make the point:

For a manager of people, there is simply no other meeting that is as important as your 1×1 meetings with your direct report(s). You should consider your 1:1s to be “sacred” or as close to that as is possible for a work setting.

Yes, those are strong words. And like a lot that you’ll hear from me, perhaps it’s a bit counterintuitive. Someone might be saying, “Surely, the 1:1s with my own boss are more important for me, right?” Other’s might be saying that the daily scrum is the most important or the weekly status meeting or the executive briefing is the most important. And many make that abundantly clear to their direct reports through rescheduling, truncating, or flatly canceling the 1:1 meetings with their people. Those actions on their own clearly communicate that it’s a nice-to-have for them but not a must-have meeting…that it is less important than other “work things”.

So if you’re somewhere in that camp and not quite convinced, then perhaps a good ol’ fashioned “logic proof” is in order, but I’ll try to do it in a way that’s not tedious. Answer the following questions for yourself and notice that I’ve provided a pretty typical response in quotes. If your responses differ, then this proof may not actually prove anything for you, but I tried. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

How do you, the manager, get work done? In other words, how do you accomplish your goals?

“It’s actually my team that gets the work done. I am responsible for the work getting done and for it’s quality but we’re a team getting it done together.”

How is your performance as a manager measured?

“It’s measured by the work that I and my team get done and it’s quality.”

Could you get it all done yourself without your team?

“No, I cannot get it all done myself. If I could, I wouldn’t need a team.”

Who makes up your team?

“Individuals.” Those individuals could be individual contributors or managers who manage their own teams, or both.

Would you say that, for your team, that the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts?


Would you also say that if you were able to invest in every single member of your team and help them to be transformed by growth that the whole would be significantly improved since it’s still going to be greater than the sum of it’s parts?
Yes. Of course.”

How disruptive is it to your team when one of your teammates (think about the more “senior” people) decides to leave?

“It depends but typically (and even in the best case) it’s extremely disruptive and costly. Not only do we lose velocity because we have lost a contributing member of the team, but we also lose velocity due to interviewing candidates then onboarding a new hire. And this all typically takes months and it constitutes a big investment of my own and my team member’s time thereby reducing their velocity too.”

Can losing a teammate cause you to miss your goals and objectives?

“Yes, it can absolutely cause us to miss our goals and objectives.”

In your own career, how important has your relationship with your boss been?

“Extremely important. It’s been one of the most important relationships that I have at work.”

And “therein lies the rub!” Most of us would answer that last question in that same way, however, when you are the boss, that’s how all of your people feel about you. And it’s within the context of the regular 1:1 that you build your relationships with each of your people…the same people that you count on to hit the team goals and objectives that your performance is ultimately measured by.

I will tell you this also – If you have great 1:1s with your people, you will not only make them feel very important but you will also build trust, belonging, psychological safety, excitement, ownership, respect, and understanding personally with them. Those are all things that will cause them to say that you are a GREAT boss. And when you’re a great boss, people want to work for you and with you and they don’t want to leave your team because, in truth, what they experience with you is rare.

And now I want to share the main point of this blog post.

People will typically gauge their importance to their manager based on how their manager handles their regular 1:1s with them.

I make this point because I have talked with many engineers and I too have experienced what they’ve told me and that is that the 1:1 meeting with their manager is one of the most important meetings that they themselves look forward to and yet it seems that it’s the one meeting that their manager reschedules or cancels more than any other.

Now, generally, people are reasonable. Life happens, things happen, crises happen and people can roll with rescheduling or canceling…once in a while. But if, as a regular occurrence, their 1:1 is rescheduled or shortened or worse, cancelled, it sends a very big signal to them that they and their work is less important than other work being done. That then affects their own sense of self worth and importance at the office. And when that happens, their sense of security and belonging will drop as well. And when THAT happens and in a thriving job market, you should know that they may start to look elsewhere for greater security, belonging, and importance.

People want to know…no, they NEED to know that they are important and that their work really matters. Making the 1:1 “sacred” and protecting it at all costs allows the boss to communicate that to them through both actions and words. But if they don’t regularly protect and defend that 1:1 from other meetings, then they lose that primary way to making their people feel extremely important.

NOTE: This is the first part of a multi-part series on 1:1s. In future posts, I’ll talk about how to think about and conduct 1:1s that will help you hold great 1:1s that continue to build on this aspect of prioritizing your people first. I’ll also talk about highly effective skip level 1:1s that will build greater cohesiveness across a larger team. I’m excited and stay tuned!!

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