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The Insider's Guide to a Successful First 1:1

New Managers! Grab 5 tips to set yourselves up for a successful first 1:1. It's as simple as listening!
Brayden Beavis

Quality Engineering Manager, Immutable

So you've got a new team. Congrats 🎉 

Now, it is important to take the time to get to know each team member individually. There is often this sense of dread, maybe even a little imposter syndrome that comes with the thought of meeting a new team for new managers. Totally normal, and you’re not alone! Since you are already reading this, I'm assuming you have already scheduled your 1:1's with your new team. If you haven’t, I see you procrastinators - schedule your 1:1's!

Having a stellar debut 1:1 with your new team member is an essential piece of the jigsaw in creating a workplace where communication reigns supreme. It sets the stage for a healthy work relationship, and is the building block to assembling a high-functioning, aligned team of top-notch professionals! This article is here to provide you, a new manager, with some tips on how to make a great first impression with your new team member! By the end of this, you'll be ready to confidently start your one-on-one seeking alignment as the outcome, and maybe even a little bit of that post-coffee glow! Let’s tuck into it:

Tip #1: 

It's important to dedicate at least 30-45 minutes for the first session, and about 3/4 of that time needs to be spent getting to know the other person and building that invaluable sense of rapport. You may have other specific topics or goals you want to cover during the 1:1, but it's important to first create a comfortable and open atmosphere. And arguably I would say unless those specific topics serve the ultimate outcome of rapport or alignment of expectations, move it to another meeting. You don't want to rush into the status updates too quickly in the relationship. Instead, spend the time asking the other person questions about themselves and get to know them a bit which will set the stage for the rest of the conversation. Show an interest in their lives, experiences, and goals. Listen actively and then share what you can about yourself, without taking the spotlight away from them!

Tip #2: 

Springboarding from not stealing the spotlight from them, a good target to aim for is to let them do 75% of the talking. Try and keep them talking by asking open questions only! There are tonnes of resources online on open questions if you’re not sure so I won’t go into those here. Ultimately, letting your team member take the spotlight is a great way to ensure they feel like they’ve been heard. If you struggle with keeping conversations flowing, come prepared with a list of pre-prepared questions that you can draw from any time you feel like you don’t know what to ask next.

Tip #3: 

Okay so you’re learning the ropes while learning about the people. It’s a lot, and it can be hard to remember all the information you might hear in your 1:1, so it's a good idea to take notes as you go. Honestly, the devil really is in the details. If you make a note of the name of Bob’s Goldfish and later bring it up in conversation, Bob will feel like you care about him as a person and likely feel a positive impact by this small effort that you have made, which translates into a boost of motivation for the day. You will be surprised at how helpful these notes can be to refer back to, and you’ll be thanking yourself for it.

Tip #4: 

Ask them about their goals. We're talking short and long-term here, people! And this is probably the most important of the tips. Knowing your team's individual goals is essential for managing and growing your team. Even if it means growing them into new ones! As a manager, you're essentially responsible for setting the culture of the team and motivating them to reach their goals. By understanding the individual goals of each team member, you get a better understanding of what drives them and what motivates them. Plus, let's be honest, it's far easier to support someone and cheer them on when you know what they're striving to achieve! Short-term goals can be viewed through the lens of what you need to start thinking now about supporting your team member’s growth. That may look like roles within immediate projects or connecting people across the organisation. Long-term goals, on the other hand, give you a compass feel for the direction of opportunities you can begin to seek out for them over time. An important note here is that you are not the main driver for their career growth, this responsibility ultimately lies with them, you are just the wide net that catches valid opportunities and hands them off. After all, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink it.

Tip 5#: 

So all of this rapport-building is great, but where about the outcomes? Well, that’s where tip #5 comes in! To really seal the deal in this working relationship, you need to achieve alignment on expectations between your team member and yourself. Establishing expectations for each person in the team is an important part of creating a productive and successful work environment, likewise establishing what their expectations are of you! To do this, I recommend wrapping up the first 1:1 with a task for each of you. The task is this:

Ask them to set aside time to write up a list of the expectations that they have of you in your role, and the expectations they have of themselves in their own role. Of course, you have to do the same (yes, for each direct report, no cheating!), then bring them back for the next 1:1 and compare your lists. Some of the answers may surprise you, and that's good! That means you have the opportunity to fulfil the needs of your team right from the start, and vice versa. So what do these expectations look like?

  • The expectation of the Manager: The manager should provide clear visibility to the team on how their work translates into org goals.
  • The expectation of the Report: Break tasks down into the smallest iteration possible and estimate it.

Something to bear in mind while you are drafting your list of expecations for your reports is to cross reference it to any levelling framework that your people teams may have already rolled out within your org.

And if you’ve read this far, then here’s the bottom line - 

when joining a new team make a lasting impression by spending some time getting to know each team member personally and aligning on what you both expect from each other—it's essential! Doing this will set the foundations for one powerhouse of a team.

Good luck!

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