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Every week, I have a 30 minutes meeting scheduled with my manager to talk about pretty much anything. So far, I haven't taken those one-on-one very seriously. As a new year resolution, I would like to take more seriously my one-on-ones with my manager. One way I though I could do that is to plan in advance (come up with a list of questions and/or agenda) my one-on-one.

With the exception of the status report, what subject do you discuss with your manager during a one-on-one? Have you ever seen an agenda for one-on-one?

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Back when I actually had a manager, we'd usually talk college football. –  GrandmasterB Jan 7 '11 at 20:42
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9 Answers

up vote 19 down vote accepted

I usually plan to talk about 3 things, in equal 10 minute proportions:

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future

Past

Generally this is things that have been brought up before that have had resolutions. ie.

  • We had discussed, as a team, the new coding standard and I'm happy/unhappy with its adoption.
  • I liked/disliked how you handled the issue that came up between myself and [other team member]

Also mention things that were forgotten, or whose solutions never materialized. Don't let them forget about things that are/were important to you.

Present

Here I talk about any current things that are going on, or should be. ie:

  • As you know, I'm studying to get my [certification in x] and it's going well. I am on target to take the exam.
  • I'm a bit worried with the current test coverage being at %[x]. I have some ideas to help improve it and would like to hear if you think it's a problem and have ideas of your own.
  • At this point were supposed to be ramping up for release, but we're not. What happened and what do you think we can do about it for our next iteration? I have some ideas.

Future

Here I list things that I'm looking forward to, and ensure that they are still going to happen or things that I'd like to see happen. ie:

  • I'm really excited to be getting VS 2010, when is it expected? Has that time changed (if not: why)?
  • I'm up for review in a few months. Do you have any concerns that I might address right away that might make that process go smoother, and in my favour?
  • I'd like to see if I can move into [x] position in the company. Do you have any feedback or suggestions for what courses I should take or what I might do to prove that I'm capable?

The focus is on contributing to the conversation, on both sides and not just b!tching about the job. Be sure to mention things that you were happy with, so that they can know to strive for the same in the future. Note that it's not just about what you can do to improve the job/working environment/company but what the company can or is planning to do to improve the same.

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+1 for contributing on both sides. –  user2567 Jan 5 '11 at 21:42
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The whole idea of these meetings is to discuss pretty much anything that's affecting your ability to do your work, so there's no agenda by definition. If something is affecting your work then it is affecting the business. Plus, a happy employee is a productive employee :)

So make a list of the things at work that are affecting your ability to do your job and start discussing those. Start with the most serious one. You won't get to discuss the one's at the bottom, but don't worry, they'll rise to the top of the list if they're serious enough or solve themselves if they're not.

Make a new list each week.

Some would argue that there's no point in discussing the state of public transport as your manager can't change that, but if it means that you're struggling to get into work then your boss does need to know. You could agree to slightly different working hours, or working from home one day a week (for example). The end result is that you are happier and hopefully more productive.

Being happier means you are more likely to stay with the company - your boss doesn't really want the cost and hassle of hiring your replacement, being more productive is better for the company's profits.

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And to help your boss, group your topics into areas: 1. Things you need to Share; 2. Things you need Support & Encouragement for; 3. Things you need Direction/Coaching for; and 4. Things you need Direction/Instruction on. It allows you both to be clear about what you want to get out of the conversation. –  Rhys Gibson Jan 5 '11 at 20:16
    
See, no offense, but I think this is really bad advice. I have been both a developer and a manager and what you really need to do to be a successful employee is solve the business's problems. For better or worse, the boss doesn't care about your problems. What the boss does care about is making the business successful. Ironically, if you focus on learning what the boss wants instead of talking about what you want, you get more respect and end up having your needs addressed anyway. It is win/win –  Nemi Jan 7 '11 at 21:46
    
@Nemi - I think I wasn't clear - in talking about those things that affect your work you are talking about the things that affect the business. –  ChrisF Jan 8 '11 at 11:44
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My particular favorite thing is to check in about the bigger picture. I often also solicit feedback about my personal performance, and fill my manager in on relevant status that may require their assistance. But my big focus is usually on harvesting as much of the big picture as I can absorb. That includes:

  • current staffing needs/problems across the section/company
  • future plans for my project
  • state of current projects and future projects in the company
  • state of the business in the industry
  • comparison of what I see as important things we should be working on as a company vs. my manager's view point

For me, the single most important thing is to figure out "what next?" overall for the company so I can structure my focus and my current work to meet that objective.

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+1 This is the ticket. Just like FramBoy's answer. Focus on what the business is trying to achieve. –  Nemi Jan 7 '11 at 20:41
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On of the thing I would definitely consider discussing is your career path.

  1. Where to you want to be in 5 years, an individual contributer, do want to mentor a fresh collage grad, do want to move in to a more managerial roll?
  2. How do you move to the next level aka (get a promotion)? What skills do I need to improve on. What metrics are used to evaluate if deserve a promotion?...ect.
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There are two general areas you should address with a manager:

  1. What are the manager's goals?
  2. What does the manager expect from you and which tasks are the most important?

1) If you're going to have a boss, she might as well be at the top of the company or at least your department. Once you know what her goals are, you have a better idea of what is expected. If your goals are not in alignment (that does not mean they are the same), you need to learn how to work around it or find another job. And get those crazy notions out of your head about your boss taking credit for your work. They're suppose to take credit for your work. That doesn't mean they don't reward you as well.

2) This is not easy. People don't always know what they want and those that do rarely communicate it well. Your meeting is important to keep getting feedback on how you are doing. Remember when you were deep into that piece of the project you thought most important and your manager came by and wanted to know if you finished that minor bug? Get some more insight. Find out why that was more important (Maybe it wasn't and it just happened to be on their mind as they passed you on the way to the coffee pot.) and how you can factor that kind of information in managing yourself.

Hopefully your interactions will give you a better perspective of their world. Trust me, if their job is easier, your job will get easier. One day we were short on staff and I saw my boss setting up a computer for a new hire (Not in the IT Dept). I'm thankful he didn't ask me to do it, but it bothers me that we are not adequately staffed. I needed more time to discuss an up and coming project. I'm working with less certainty because he's plugging in monitors.

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ChrisF's answer is spot on.

I would also add take note of things you notice that can be of benefit to the team as a whole. Not only can you raise issues that negatively affect you, but you can also talk about changes on practices/policy/[Insert area here] that can help boost overall productivity if you know of any.

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I have raised all sorts of issues in 1x1s with my manager. Things related to my personal career growth, things related to interpersonal issues with team members, things related to projects that I'm on, suggestions for improvements to the department, etc.

I basically do what ChrisF said. I jot down a list during the week, and go through the list in priority during the meeting. The things that don't get discussed go to next week's list.

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Focus on how you can solve his business problems. Even if you are talking about something bothering you, talk about how you want to remove obstacles from his success.

50 weeks a year talk about how you can do your work better, and 2 weeks a year talk about how he can compensate you better.

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This is the answer. Don't focus on yourself. Focus on learning what HE is trying to do. Once you understand what your boss wants you will be better equipped to solve his problems. Once he understands that you understand what he is trying to accomplish, you will gain more trust and respect. With that comes raises, promotions, and being indispensable. –  Nemi Jan 7 '11 at 20:40
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I'd likely advocate getting feedback of how are you doing. Note that this is feedback to you, about how you are seen from the top which may become a dialogue if you want to further discuss stuff. Your manager may suggest some skills that you could improve or how to move up the corporate chain. In a way if you think of your manager as a mentor, this would be a way to cultivate that relationship. There is also the potential to work on some small talk skills within that 30 minutes that may also be worth pondering just to help build that relationship.

I would suggest having a few action items towards the end of the meeting. Either things to observe, try, or research over the next week so that there is something new to discuss.

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