Effective 1:1's with your team members
Updated: Sep 23, 2020
Today I wanted to talk about something that's very dear to me, and that's 1:1's with your team members. To be honest, this post will be useful for anyone in a leadership position in any kind of field, but for some reason it's kinda lacking in games specifically so I wanted to address it.
1:1's are a regular, scheduled meeting that you use to check the temperature with your direct reports and help them with their career goals. If you have an annual appraisal, the 1:1's should be the stepping stone to that meeting, and they are key because nothing said in an annual appraisal should ever be a surprise. A team member going into an annual appraisal should never be worrying about what is going to be said, they should know based on your conversations in your 1:1's and the appraisal should just be a yearly summary of all their efforts, a look into the far future, and just a bit more formal than the 1:1.
Why are 1:1's important
They enable you to build up trust and rapport with your team members
They provide a private space for your team member to address any issues that may be affecting them
It provides you an opportunity to hone in and focus on someone's career progression
It provides a low-pressure, regular touch point so you aren't just talking to people when you want something or when they did something wrong
They are just nice if you do them correctly!
How do I conduct an effective 1:1
The most important thing about 1:1's is that it is consistent. The reason this is so important is because it's the thing that I see every company do 100% wrong the vast majority of the time. 1:1's end up sporadic, on the fly, or don't happen at all. Or they are scheduled only when someone has done something wrong - imagine the stress that causes! Sometimes, they get bumped for other important meetings and end up on the bottom of the pile if it's busy. Projects will come and go, but your team should (hopefully) be forever. They are the most important thing you will ever have as part of your responsibilities as a Producer, so 1:1's should always be the top of the list above all else. Put them in the calendar at the same time monthly or every two months, and don't constantly reschedule for other things - it tells team members they aren't important to you and that is a mistake!
It's really important that team members have clear goals and clear pathways for their personal development, and it's our job to help provide that clarity. I do recommend writing down goals when conducting 1:1's so that you can track progress - it doesn't have to be anything fancy, can be post-it notes, an excel, whatever works for you. I talk about SMART goals later in this post but essentially they should be;
This framework helps you get goals that are actually practical and useful and not vague and non-specific.
If someone isn't performing the way you expected them to, you must tell them (clearly, but kindly.) This could be a blog post of it's own, but you need to bring your authentic self to the 1:1's and ensure your feedback is honest. One of the things that creates upset, discord and general worry for people is not knowing where they stand with their manager or team. Having no ability to benchmark where they are or where they are going creates way more stress than being told clearly and kindly what they need to do to improve. New managers struggle with this but it does your team a disservice if you don't give feedback in this way. And also don't forget to give good feedback too! A lot of people follow the SBI principles (situation, behaviour, impact) to give effective feedback, and a casual version of this worked well for me in the past for both positive and negative feedback. Things like the 'shit sandwich' are a bit outdated and people don't appreciate having transparent techniques like that 'used' on them if you see what I mean, so I tend not to do any of that. But whatever works for you and your team member is okay as long as you're honest!
IMO, it's best if they are chill. You don't need to do anything too formal or structured but this is what I like to do;
Casual chat! How are things going, what have you been working on this month, any challenges?
SMART Goals! There are loads of resources on the internet for setting goals, and it's a bit cliche but as mentioned, I like SMART goals. This part of the 1:1 is the opportunity to talk about the future, and not only does it hold the team member accountable, it holds you as a manager accountable too! For example, a non-SMART goal might be something like 'Set up some training for X thing at some point.' No time frame, no expected outcomes, no way of measuring if it was fully complete or not. Whereas if you add all the things in the SMART framework, there is no wiggling out of your responsibilities either.
Feedback! This is a good opportunity to give feedback - once you've established the goals the team member wants to achieve, you can give feedback on how they are progressing towards their goals. NOT ONLY THAT - but this is a perfect time for them to give feedback to YOU, about their role, if there is any more support they could get. No doubt, sometimes team members find it hard to give candid feedback to those in positions of authority so don't worry if this doesn't come naturally at first, it takes time to build that trust. I will probably do another blog post about how to gracefully accept feedback and give feedback too at a later date.
Anything else? This is an opportunity to chat about the things that matter to that specific team member. I usually find this is where they disclose if something is troubling them, or sometimes they blurt it out at the start of the meeting and we talk about that for the rest of the time. Make sure you open the floor for things you haven't planned to talk about.
And that's it! Nothing too fancy, but I find that a lot of useful stuff comes out of these meetings so I really recommend doing them, even if it takes a while for everyone to get into the groove.
If you have any more tips - do share them. Do you do 1:1's at your place? How do they go?