Running 1:1s

Mentoring people

Mentoring people

As a mentor, one of your main responsibilities is to have recurring 1:1 (one-on-one) meetings with your mentees. These meetings are monthly (except for special circumstances) and usually 1-hour long.

We believe in 1:1s as an invaluable tool to:

  • support your mentee in their personal and professional growth;
  • gauge the mentee's morale and well-being;
  • remove obstacles impeding your mentee's progress;
  • provide both feedback and criticism;
  • receive feedback on your management style and Nebulab.

What makes a great 1:1

The tricky thing about one-on-ones is there is no right way to do them: every mentor has their style, which means two one-on-ones can be different even when they're done in the same company. As a mentor, you are encouraged to find your unique style and voice.

With that said, there are some ground rules to follow for holding effective one-on-ones (i.e. one-one-ones where people say what they want to say rather than what the manager wants to hear):

  • It's about them, not you. Even though the mentor schedules them, a one-on-one is about the mentee, not the mentor. Let them define the agenda or not have an agenda at all, and let them talk about whatever they want.
  • Be interested and show it. Your main job during a one-on-one is to build trust and connection, and to dig deeper and deeper until you are sure all topics on the agenda have been discussed exhaustively. Don't forget non-verbal clues!
  • Do not reschedule. You should avoid rescheduling a one-on-one like the plague. Of course, we're humans and things happen, so if you absolutely need to, go ahead and reschedule the meeting as close as possible to the original date.
  • Create accountability. It is extremely important for every one-on-one where problems have been raised to create an action plan. Make sure both you and your mentee are accountable for that plan, and monitor its progress closely.
  • Do your homework. Don't jump into the 1:1 with no idea of what you're going to discuss. Review the agenda from the past meeting and use it to prepare the new one. Make sure to ask your mentee if they have any points they'd like to discuss!
  • Speak their language. Just like every mentor is different, mentees also have different styles of approaching 1:1s. Some are more extroverted, while others might need some nudging in order to express their feelings. Adjust your communication style accordingly.

One more tip on scheduling the calls: when you have many mentees, it can be tempting to schedule all of the one-on-ones on Friday, so that the rest of your week is free to do other work. However, as these meetings are very demanding, it is hard to really focus on more than one or two in the same day. Instead, try to spread them out throughout the week, so that you can give the same level of attention to the same one-on-one.

Sample structure

  • Greeting: some small talk goes a long way towards building genuine rapport and interest!
  • Status update: given the low frequency at which we do 1:1s, this should be interpreted in a broad sense: don't ask for a list of tasks, but rather talk about the most relevant areas they have worked on.
  • Personal growth: how is their journey going? Can you provide any useful resources or guidance on what to work on? (If they're taking English lessons, this is also a good moment to check on how they're going.)
  • Impediments: is anything impeding their progress from a professional or personal perspective? If yes, is there any way you can help? Don't make this feel like micromanagement: you should be a servant leader.
  • Anything else: leave some room for last-minute topics that come to mind right before or during the meeting, you're probably going to need it!
  • Action plan: make an action plan that will hold both of you accountable for what you need to do until the next 1:1. This is extremely important: don't leave any stone unturned.

Useful questions

Here are some questions you can ask during your one-on-one:

  • What are the biggest time wasters for you each week?
  • Is there anything we should start doing as a team?
  • Would you like more or less direction from me on your work?
  • Do you feel you’re getting enough feedback on your work?
  • If not, where would you like more feedback?
  • What could I do as a manager to make your work easier?
  • Is there an aspect of your job you would like more help or coaching?
  • Do you feel you’re getting enough feedback?
  • How could we improve the ways our team works together?
  • On a scale of 1–10, how happy are you at work?
  • What are you least clear about — in terms of our strategy and goals?
  • What area of the company would you like to learn more about?
  • What can I do or stop doing that would make it easier to work with me?

Additional resources