The Most Important Thing About 1:1s (and Building Trust)

06 October 2015 by Mathias Meyer

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
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