Anna
Dziuba
Delivery Manager at Relevant Software

How to Run a Successful 1-on-1 Meeting with a Developer: Tips and Examples

Management

There is a pretty good reason why a one-on-one meeting with a developer is very crucial. 

These meetings can involve going through feedback for projects, sharing ideas, and sometimes just catching up. All these activities are for the sole purpose of creating a great working relationship with your fellow team members.

The numbers don’t lie. According to a recent study, employees who have twice as many 1-to-1s as their colleagues are 67% less likely to be disengaged.

According to Microsoft Workplace Analytics, employees who have twice as many 1-to-1s as their peers are 67% less likely to be disengaged.

Also, it goes without saying that when senior managers or senior developers have a clear picture of an employee’s work progress, they run more effective programmer performance reviews, which in turn may be beneficial for your business.

A meeting with a software engineer often can have its fair share of challenges and go off track. For you to avoid such a situation, we’ve created this guide on how to run a successful one-on-one meeting with a developer. 

To get started, let us look into the importance of 1-on-1s.

Why are one-on-ones with software engineers so important?

When conducted properly, one-on-one meetings in engineering departments are a powerful tool in not only providing the organization with a developer’s status, but creating a relationship where both employee and manager feel free to express their opinions and views. 

After spending so much time (and money) on hiring the best software engineering talents, it is only proper to make time in your calendar and help the developers grow in the best way they can.

The benefits of One-on-One meetings

The importance of one on one meetings can never be over-emphasized. Good communication between a manager and his dev team member is a key driver of employee performance and engagement. 

A one-on-one meeting developer appointment, especially on performance conversations between managers and software engineers, is crucial for ensuring productive communication.

So, what exactly are the benefits of one-on-one meetings?

  • Building trust
    A successful organization is built upon a foundation of trust. To build trust, you need to talk to the developer in private and keep it confidential. You can achieve this through the one-on-one meeting programmer agenda.
    Adopt the “What happens in Las Vegas, stays in Las Vegas” kind of approach. Let the programmer feel free to discuss with you, knowing that every information shared will be kept off the record. 
    Whether developers tell you about the struggles with code, a fall-out with another team member, or impressions on working in an agile environment, let them do so while it’s just the two of you.
  • Helping managers do their job well 
    Not only is the meeting beneficial to the developer, it actually acts as a double-edged sword that touches both the manager and the employee. 
    As the manager, you get a chance to address pressing issues in a more professional manner. Not having successful 1-on-1 meetings may result in you, as the manager, not knowing exactly what’s happening on the ground. 
    Who is better to inform you of the coding strategy or challenges if not the developer?
  • Developers feel valued
    One-on-one meetings make an employee feel valued. Imagine that you are a principal software engineer at a big company. You take your time to talk to a junior specialist who is still fresh in the software engineering game.
    Not only will the developer feel valued, but he will respect you and strive to do better programming. High chances are he will become loyal and more productive.
  • Strengthening of working relationships
    Walking past each other with an occasional “hello” when you meet at the coffee machine does not strengthen a working relationship. 
    When you speak alone with your developer, you give him undivided attention, which makes it easier for him to understand whatever you need to say and the extent to which you value their presence at the company. 
    Just being the two of you creates a strong bond that will make both of you appreciate a good working relationship.
4 Benefits of One-on-One Meetings with Developers

How to run an effective One-on-One meeting

There is a myriad of ways to conduct one-on-one meetings. The trick is to find one that best suits you and your programmers. A meaningful conversation based on a 1-on-1 meeting agenda template may also help you out in managing software teams effectively. 

5 tips for meaningful one-on-ones with programmers

Here are some tips for better 1-on-1 meetings with your software developers:

1. Plan and structure properly

Don’t let your meeting be off-the-cuff. Plan and structure your one-on-one meetings in a professional yet friendly manner. To do that, you need to ask yourself a few questions: how long should it take? What kind of questions should I ask? How do I help the developer feel relaxed and participate in the meeting?

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There are also a few one-on-one meeting topics you might want to consider: how is Project X progressing? How can we make working on projects easier? How can I strengthen my communication pattern?

Write them down since you might need a reference point. Creating an agenda will help keep it simple and avoid unnecessary discussions.

Additionally, give your developer a chance to include a few points of discussion on the agenda. This will foster a sense of connection that allows both of you to participate in the meeting. 

Use various tools to set up a meeting reminder, list your agenda, and manage it. For example, Microsoft Teams will send you a notification with a link to your meeting agenda, allowing you to add notes and send messages to the other participant. 

Remember, good one-on-ones don’t just happen. You plan them accordingly.

2. Don’t cancel, but reschedule one-on-ones

Imagine this, a developer has probably spent the last three days eagerly waiting to have an important conversation with you, and then you cancel. It is highly likely that the programmer may feel how unimportant the business meeting was to you.

If something pressing comes up, reschedule it, so you can keep your 1-on-1.

3. Keep it short (but not too short)

Make the meetings short, frequent, and memorable. Remember, software engineering requires focus and long meetings take up much of the developers’ time, the time they can use to code. Usually, a 30-minute meeting might give you enough time to talk, discuss projects, and iron out any pending issues.

Wondering what the one-on-one meeting frequency should be? Well, once you start meeting, it’s best to do them regularly. This allows you to remain updated on the progress of projects while building a healthy working relationship. 

Whether you meet weekly or opt for monthly one-on-one meetings with developers, make the best out of it. Ask relevant business-related questions and remember to leave some time for personal conversations, so you can get to know them better.

4. Talk about career development

It’s always good to know an engineer’s career goals. Some may feel they have achieved a level where they need to be promoted from mid-level software engineer to senior engineer, and this might be their best chance to air out their views. 

Ask them what they need to enhance their career and how you, as their manager, can help them achieve that.

5. Take notes

Taking notes in meetings shows you are paying attention to every little detail. In your next meeting, the notes act as a guide when reviewing the last meeting’s agenda. It also prevents you from forgetting what was said in the meeting.

How to Run Effective 1-on-1s with Developers: Tips

Let’s talk more about preparation

Building strong personal relationships through a one-on-one meeting agenda with software engineering team members needs thorough preparation. These meetings paint a clear picture of the developer’s experiences and career development goals. Even if you hire remote developers, you still need to keep in touch with them and develop a good relationship. 

So how do you prepare for an effective meeting?

1. Review notes from your previous meeting. Your notes will provide you with an immediate reference point for agendas to discuss during the next one-on-one. This will also help you address any issues that need to be resolved before your next meeting. With time, you can check the progress of your meetings by reviewing these notes.

2. Know each other. Whether you are about to have your very first one-on-one meeting or it’s your fifteenth meeting, it’s always a good idea to get to know your developer well outside your 1-on-1. 

Know what makes your software engineer tickle or become grumpy, or if there are any issues outside the office that you might help him with. It may be difficult to know everything in the 30-minute one-on-one meeting, but over time, you can easily develop a healthy working relationship with your dev team members.

The one-on-one meeting with your software developer should be an open discussion where you share information and ask questions. 

What is the agenda for 1:1s with a software engineer?

If you are outgoing, you might be tempted to engage in small talk. As enjoyable as talking about last night’s football game is, it is good to leave such talks for the short breaks, or after the meeting is over. 

Strive to stay on course and discuss topics that add value. You may revisit the same topics each time you have your one on ones. Get to know if the developer has had a change of mind, encountered something of interest since the last meeting, or had any notable developments.

Start your one on one meeting with a personal check-in. Understanding their personal feelings allows you to understand how best to help them balance both work and personal life. 

If you focus too much on getting through a rigid agenda, then you might miss important signals of a software engineer who is not doing great. 

Next, you need to find out the extent to which the developer is connected to the business. Is he the “Let me code and go home” type, or he is the kind of engineer that always strives to be a valuable asset to the company? 

Questions like “Do you have any questions about the recent change involving Project X? What do you think about it?” may shed light on where your software developer stands regarding the company’s objectives.

One of the most important purposes of 1-on-1s is to discuss all the issues that can jeopardize developers’ performance, the improvement of the working environment, or the elimination of blockers.

What specific topics are discussed during one-on-ones?

At one-on-one, software engineers may talk about the things they are not ready to discuss with their PMs but do not mind discussing with other developers, as they may better understand their concerns. 

These questions may relate to specific problems, misunderstandings with the customer (or project manager or another team member), or any technical issue that may affect the work process or results.

1-on-1s are also perfect for discussing the developer’s workflow. This meeting is where you can ask questions about the tasks you are working on, the area of your responsibility, and the level of complexity. 

Are there any problems with the workload: do you have enough tasks, or do you work overtime often? Are you experiencing burnout? Do you feel like and have enough energy to work on extra tasks?

You can also discuss non-project activities during a one-on-one meeting and clarify whether engineers work on their Personal Development Plan (PDP), participate in non-core projects related to engagement, presentations, code review sessions, interviews, etc.

A one-on-one meeting is also a good chance to take on big strategic questions affecting the company as a whole. For example, you can discuss any upcoming process changes in your organization. This way, you can get feedback, ask for advice and clarify the ambiguities.

Also, you can discuss the learning curve of the programmer, taking into account the market situation, customer demands, and the company’s priorities.

Questions for 1:1 with a developer: Examples 

Here’s a 1-on-1 meeting agenda template with questions to help you out and foster an active conversation:

  1. How are you feeling today? 
  2. Tell me about last week? How did your projects go?
  3. What are you planning on this week? What’s on the top of your mind?
  4. Last time we spoke, you said Project X was a challenge for you, how is that going?
  5. What are your plans and priorities for this week?
  6. How confident are you with the company’s current direction? How do you feel when you come in for work every day?
  7. How did you like the last major feature you did?
  8. What has challenged you (in a particular period of time)?
  9. What could have gone better with the last feature?
  10. Which software tools do you feel you are missing?
  11. What’s concerning you the most right now?
  12. How do you feel about our company goals? What part do you feel you have to play?
  13. Do you feel confident in how you/your team are progressing?
  14. Are you having trouble with any of the other teammates?
  15. What do you want to be doing a year from now? Is there anything we can do to help you achieve that? 
  16. When you think about yourself in three years’ time, what comes to mind?
  17. How are you progressing on your career development goals?
  18. What can I help you with between now and the next time we meet?
  19. What feedback do you have for me?

It is rare that you will cover these questions in one meeting. Rather, select and group the questions according to what you want the meeting to achieve. These questions also work when you hire app developers and need to hold 1-on-1 meetings.

10 Questions to Ask Developers in One-on-One Meeting

The structure of One-on-One meeting with software engineer

Hopefully, you have realized how easy it is to conduct meetings. Any manager can learn how to conduct a one-to-one meeting with a developer. You need to follow the one-on-one template for a manager, and you are good to go! 

Below is a structure that can help you make the most out of your one-on-one meetings with your software engineer: 

This Week

Date: 06-12/2021EngineerManager
What’s on top of my mind?
Things that went well?
Learnings
Priorities until our next meeting
Challenges & Blockers
Feedback
Action Items

Previous Weeks

Date: CW-11/2021EngineerManager
What’s on top of my mind?
Things that went well?
Learnings
Priorities until our next meeting
Challenges & Blockers
Feedback
Action Items

How does it work at Relevant Software?

There is a practice of running one-on-one meetings on a regular basis, for example, once in two weeks or once a month. If you use such a formal approach, the meetings are tied to the date and added to the calendar, so they don’t overlap with other tasks or events. 

At Relevant, we believe that it is better to choose a more flexible approach and run one-on-ones with developers when it is really needed. 

Obviously, as a good leader, you should not forget to have regular conversations with your team members. But these meetings should be linked to particular situations and not to the dates. 

While newbies who recently joined the team may be happy to talk and clarify all their questions, a software engineer, focused on the future release, wouldn’t like to be distracted by meetings.

Also, if you have a flexible approach, developers can initiate a 1-on-1 by themselves without waiting for a particular date or manager’s decision. Such a tool as 1-on-1 must be accessible to both sides, so you can easily use it when issues arise and not when the day of the meeting comes. 

If there is a problem, it is better not to wait, but resolve it as soon as possible. And one-on-one meetings offer an excellent opportunity to do that.

So our approach is to have regular as well as spontaneous one-on-one meetings. If an engineer wants a meeting, it is enough reason to do it. 

The advice mentioned above consists of general tips applicable to any organization. But here, you can find more specifics based on our team’s experience. They might be helpful too.

So how can you get the most from 1-on-1 meetings with software engineers?

  1. Have a plan of the conversation in advance. This plan should include the most important questions you want to ask and information you need to share with a developer. You can share this plan with a programmer beforehand, but the main goal of this document is to create the basis of the future conversation, which will allow you to move from one topic to another smoothly.
  2. Choose an individual approach for each developer. The format of a 1-1 meeting can be completely different depending on the programmer with whom you have a conversation and the topics you have selected. Some specialists need to have formal procedures such as booking a meeting in advance, going “straight to the point during the conversation, etc.” Others, on the contrary, want to have a less formal conversation, like to have a cup of coffee and take a walk. This can help them to share their feedback more freely and openly.
  3. Steer the conversation in the right direction. Developers often aren’t big talkers, and it can be hard for them to start a discussion. So you have to take the matter into your own hands, begin the conversation, ask open questions and give them the time to speak on the topic. It would be great for you to have some training on psychology to do it the right way. Also, it would be nice to find out before the meeting how things are going for the developer, both at work and at home. You can ask him/her directly or check with his/her colleagues.
  4. If you have to take notes, do it discreetly. It may not be very pleasant when the meeting initiator writes down word for word what a developer says. It would be much better to write only the most essential things. For example, you can write down “check out the online course and agree on whether we buy it or not” or “think about the topics for the report.” The other option is not to write anything at all, but focus on the conversation and make some notes after the meeting is over.

Why should you bother with taking notes in the first place? Making notes is essential, especially if you are in charge of conducting 1-on-1s with many developers. Suppose this number reaches 10-20 people, it will be impossible to remember all the topics and who said what. So make notes and review them before carrying out the next meeting.

Conclusion

We hope we have provided valuable tips on how to run a successful 1-on-1 meeting with software engineers to ensure your team works productively. If you need a dedicated development team or want to outsource react development, we can help. 

We provide companies with senior tech talent and product development expertise to build world-class software.

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Tags: management
Written by
Anna Dziuba
Delivery Manager at Relevant Software
I ensure delivery excellence and high-quality of software development services our company provides. We carefully pick each employee and stick to high standards of product development to ensure the highest quality of code.

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