Slightly more than a year ago, I had no idea what a 1:1 is let alone what purpose it’s serves. The idea of talking to one of our team member seemed so foreign at a time when we structured our team around individual autonomy and the assumption that people will speak up when something’s up.

What I quickly learned is that unless you give them a forum and safe space for it, they won’t. They’ll keep their unhappiness, grievances and issues to themselves until it’s too late, and that’s to no fault of their own. When there’s no clear and regular place for you as a person to talk about what’s bothering you, there’s little reason for you to bring it up in any other way.

Since then, 1:1s have become one of the most important interactions we foster with our team at Travis CI. It doesn’t just give a forum for people to talk about what’s bothering them, and to give you (the manager) a place to help them with their personal and professional growth. It gives invaluable face time in a team that’s now about 50% remote.

Granted, one of the most important things about 1:1s is to simply show up, to be there, to listen, to embrace the awkward pause. That alone helps you (the manager) build trust with people on your team.

A 1:1 doesn’t end when the allotted time is up, not for you, not for the person you’ve had the 1:1 with. It’s your job as a manager to figure out what’s moving, motivating and bothering the people on your team, and a 1:1 is a great place to talk about these things.

The conversation, however, has to continue. Whatever issues, questions or problems came out of a 1:1, it’s your job as the manager to follow up on those issues. Whether that happens via email, a brief conversation or in the next 1:1, the medium itself isn’t important.

Following up on things coming out of 1:1 is the single best way for you as the manager to build trust with your team. When you follow up on what you say you will, your team will have confidence in you, they’ll trust you, they know that you care about them.

Scheduling in time for follow up can be challenging, especially with our constant state of busyness, regardless of what our job is. Finding the time for it and following through with it, though, is the single best thing you can do to build trust with your team.

Wait, there’s more. Following up isn’t just important for managers, it’s important for everyone participating in them. Trust goes both ways. When you agree on things to follow up on for both of you, it’s a mutual commitment to each other, to building a trusting relationship.

Credit where credit is due: I’ve learned a lot about 1:1s from Jason Evanish’s posts on the topic and also his recent writing on the Lighthouse blog. Lighthouse is a great tool I’ve been using for the past year or so that helps with tracking notes and action items coming out 1:1s, I’d highly recommend you check it out.

Tags: leadership

A friend recently approached me, asking how he could overcome a feeling of paralysis. He felt stuck figuring out what the next steps are in getting his product out and front of customers.

I can very much relate to that feeling, it’s been a continuous companion over the last 3+ years in building out Travis CI. While I didn’t have any good advice, I had a few stories of my own to share.

In 2012 I was working on our billing app. It didn't feel that important, but when you think about it, it's kind of an important piece of making money for a SaaS product.

I felt continuously stuck and afraid to finish it up, paralyzed by the fear that it would break and that it wouldn't work for weird reasons. In some ways I felt like I over-engineered it, just to make sure it's resilient enough to all the weird stuff that happens with payment systems.

Finishing it up and bringing it to a state where I could confidently say "Let's do this!" took me the better of two months. While we weren't sure if the product is stable enough (it wasn't) to justify charging for it, we tried to do it anyway, and we went into a private beta for months. We made it a paid one, a generally unheard-of concept in a world where beta usually means free, or where services remain in perpetual beta state.

A similar thing happened when we decided on and published our pricing, which was deliberately higher than that of our competition, and there were public complaints about it. We were still confident, but that kind of negative feedback hampered us. We got over that hill in the end, and decided on just pushing through with the pricing and see where it leads us.

The next time this happened was when we were faced with the question of how long we want our private beta to continue. We were in private beta for almost a year, which is ridiculous in hindsight. There were so many things we were worried about, mostly regarding capacity and not being able to support the onslaught of customers, it kept us from making the call. In the end, getting our of private beta and opening up the product to everyone gave us a huge spurt in new customers, and from thereon out we saw organic and steady growth.

When you step into unknown territory, the paralysis is a natural thing to happen. When you don't know what's going to happen, the simplest thing for us is to stay away from taking the plunge. I know this feeling very well, and I'm finding myself faced with it again right now. It gets even harder when it stops just being you, and when other people’s income and supporting their families is on the line.

What I found to be useful in those situations is to think about what it is that I'm really afraid of, what's the worst that could happen in the situation I feel so paralyzed by.

Is the worst part that no one's going to give us money? Is the worst part that the billing system might fail and people can't give us money? Is the worst that we’ll have some unhappy customers, or an unhappy team?

Thinking about that nudges yourself to think about your fear and your paralysis, and to think about what you’re really afraid of rather than just feeling stuck by the fear itself.

The fear of failure and the accompanying paralysis seeps through all aspects of your business. When it’s not about the billing system, it’s about where to go with the product, figuring out what to do next. The product will never be finished, it will never be good enough for you, in particular for you who've invested so much into it. This alone can lead you to a perpetual state of not being able to move when move is the very thing you have to do.

Channeled right, this can be a powerful driver and motivation. But it can also be a constant feeling of not achieving everything you want to achieve. For this situation, the simplest thing you can ask yourself is: what's the simplest thing I can add and ship for this to be (more) useful and valuable to someone? It's not a definition of finished, but it's a definition of good enough.

If you can find a few folks to give you money for that, then you're on a great path, and it’s the most powerful motivator from hereon out. Can you get 10 customers to give you money? Can you get 100? 1000?

That's the moment where you'll end up feeling silly about your paralysis. That moment when your first customer, your first ten customers, give you their credit card and their money, that's the best moment. It's not a guarantee what you've built is going to be successful in the long run, but it's incredibly validating and motivating for you to push on.

The bad news is that the feeling of paralysis is probably never going to go away. As your business grows, you’ll continuously be faced with new decisions whose outcome you cannot foresee.

What you will get better at is getting a grasp of what you’re really afraid of and, most importantly, at recovering from when things go wrong. You’ll be more resilient to these failures over time, and you’ll find ways to pick yourself up again and move on, learning as you go. The truth is that you’re not alone in this fear and paralysis. It happens to a lot of people in similar situations.

One of the best ways to figure out how to get over it is to find people who are or have been in similar situations as you are now. Ask them how they felt, ask them what they did to get out of the paralysis, and find comfort in the fact that you’re not alone. If you ever feel like you need someone to chat to, feel free to reach out.

I've recently listened to a podcast on the topic of fear and founders, I'd recommend you listen to it and think about how it applies to you.

About a year ago I met one of our team members in person for the first time. We hung out for the entire day, talking about all kinds of things, problems we were facing with our company at the time were amongst them.

During those conversations he taught me a simple yet rather powerful conversation technique: the awkward pause. It’s since become an important tool for me in 1:1s and conversations with other people.

When you talk about a problematic topic, there tends to be that moment when the other party stops talking. It can happen for lots of reasons. They don’t want to rat someone out, they don’t want to vent, they’re looking for the right words to express themselves, or the topic is so uncomfortable that they don’t want to continue talking about it.

When you’re impatient, it’s tempting to pick up the conversation in those moments. You ask further questions, you start talking about your point of view, you possibly even change the topic thinking that there’s not much more to get out of it.

Our intuition makes the awkward pause weird for both of us. It feels uncomfortable because no one is talking when this entire meeting is about talking, exchanging ideas and thoughts. The temptation to chime in and take over the conversation is big. Nobody likes the awkward pause.

When you chime in and interrupt the awkward pause, breaking this uncomfortable silence, the topic likely drops off the other person’s mind. Whatever troubles they’ve had, they’re unlikely to come up again in this meeting. They’re more likely to come up in some future conversation, when that person has gotten to a point where the topic has made them so unhappy that it turns into a vent, or maybe even in their resignation.

Interrupting the awkward pause means losing out on invaluable information and insight. What comes after the awkward pause is usually the real issues on that person’s mind. Whether what you’re going to hear is actionable or not, a vent, a personal issue, it’s the underlying issue of everything else you’ve talked about up until this point.

It’s the essence of what the conversation is all about. Breaking out of the awkward pause makes sure that essence is lost forever, possibly never to be seen again.

When you find yourself in a conversation and you can feel that you’re in an awkward pause moment, take a deep breath, focus on the other person and just wait. Resist the urge to continue the conversation and let the other person continue digging up the real issue that’s on their mind. Resist the urge to break out of the awkwardness and just let the other person talk when they’re ready.

Embracing the awkward pause is possibly one of the simplest and most effective tools to make you a better listener. It helps you build trust and develop more patience in conversations with your reports and your peers. I’d go as far as considering it an essential leadership skill.

Thanks, Dan, for teaching me an invaluable skill!

Tags: leadership