3 Templates for Running Great 1:1s at Your Startup

When it comes to the challenges that startups face, the most preventable are the people problems. And most people problems arise because of a lack of opportunity for communication.

The best way to prevent these people problems is to build the practice of 1:1 meetings into your startup from day one. And yes, even if you’re all working together in the same room, and you’re always talking, you still need 1:1s.

The hardest thing about 1:1s is to start having them. You’ve got to get them on the calendar, at a regular interval, for all direct reports. Think one hour bi-weekly for new or junior team members, one hour monthly for independent contributors, program managers, and everyone else at the startup.

The second hardest thing about 1:1s is to keep them. You must religiously protect this time. Even though it’s an internal meeting and yes it could be easy to reschedule, the trap is letting it slip. When you let them slip not only are you diminishing the importance of the 1:1, but by the time you realize there’s a problem, it will already have created a negative ripple effect. On the flip side you’ll also have missed the opportunity to positively reinforce behaviors and actions that you want a team member to lean into.

The third hardest thing about 1:1s is for managers to recognize that the 1:1 is not their meeting. While it’s the managers job to provide and protect the space and the structure, it’s the employee’s meeting. The purpose of the 1:1 is not for the manager to deliver information, it’s the employee’s time to be heard and get guidance and help on what they are prioritizing, what is important to them, and how they are approaching their work.

Convinced? Great. Start with one of these three templates for running great 1:1s, then come back in three months for the best resources to help you refine them.

Level One: The Open-Ended Work Therapy Session

  • What’s going on? This is the how is it going question. Give the employee the opportunity to talk about whatever they like, get you up to speed since the last time you met, externalize their experience of what is going on in their job, and get your advice. This is 80% listening 20% talking for the manager.
  • How can I help? Find a way to help brainstorm about an issue, problem, or interpersonal situation that they are facing now. There might be something that you need to intervene in, there may be encouragement and enablement you need to provide to help them solve the problem themselves. There might be a family need coming up they need to discuss. Be open to everything!
  • What else are you thinking about? This is the opportunity to tease out any other ideas or issues that may have occurred to them as they’ve been talking things out with you. It’s a nice way to leave things open ended.

Level Two: The Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Model

Let your employees know that you’re getting ready to start doing 1:1s with them, that it’s their meeting, and you’re going to send them an agenda that is more like guidelines anyway. Copy and paste the following into your calendar invites:

These are some guiding questions for us to go through, we’re free to deviate from this or go in any order that would be most helpful for you right now!

  • What do you think is going really well since we last met?
  • What could have gone better since we last met?
  • How are you feeling about your work?
  • How can I help make things better/easier/more productive for you?
  • What is something that you’re thinking about that the rest of the team isn’t thinking about?
  • What is the most important thing you think I should be thinking about or working on over the next month?
  • What questions or feedback do you have for me?
  • What can we both do before we meet again to make progress on what we discussed today?

Level Three: The We-Need-Some-Structure Option

For employees that will be better set up for success if they have a consistent structure and way to prepare, check out the 3 P’s — Progress, Plans, and Problems. Three categories, the employee leads the walk through of each, the manager follows up with a brief email recap to document and provide accountability that will go to the next 1:1 meeting.

  • Progress — What were your biggest accomplishments since we last spoke? Why were they a success? Progress identifies finished items and closed tasks since the last meeting.
  • Plans — What are your biggest goals between now and when we next meet? Plans define the goals and objectives between now and the next meeting. These “Plans” should become “Progress” next time you meet.
  • Problems — What are the problems that you are facing? Problems require the help of other people, and need to be talked through to exercise potential solutions. The outcome of the 1:1 meeting becomes how we’re going to solve the “Problems” and get them unstuck.

Resources for the Managers:

Resources for the Reports:


Related posts

Search The First Things You Need to Know to Pay Off Your Startup’s Diversity Debt
Why We’re Obsessed with Unit Economics Search