The Anatomy of a 1:1

Broadly speaking, my overarching agenda for any 1:1 is as follows:

It starts with the checkin, “how’s it going?”, an open ended question that some people respond with a status update, and some do not. The important thing is what comes next – finding out how the person feels. Sometimes a status update is useful context for that, sometimes it’s just how we get there. Either is fine.

Then we move into the most interesting part of the 1:1: what could be better.

Information / context is where I spend a lot of time for new hires, or someone taking on new responsibility. E.g. if I have a new lead, they might have questions about how things work or what they share about how they think things are going will surface things they may be missing or need to pay more attention to.

Practical help is less common, but sometimes necessary – if someone is overwhelmed, or needs to escalate something, then that’s something we would spend time on. Equally, I might help them with finding help elsewhere.

Development is the most interesting part of the 1:1. This is about helping them be more effective (or sometimes just happier at work). For many people, it’s not necessary to be in this space every week, but making some time for this more often than not is key to supporting people’s development.

Below is my model for developmental conversations.

Thanks for the Feedback breaks feedback into evaluative feedback (where someone stands) and developmental feedback (how someone can improve). Coaching is separate – where the individual decides what they want to do, and can – in context – build on both of these, or exist outside of it in a pure coaching relationship.

Evaluative feedback is critical – if someone doesn’t know where they stand, that can undermine everything else – but is the least empowered place. The failure mode is the evaluation loop, where you keep discussing the evaluation but it doesn’t change, because there was no meaningful action. In this space, there’s a lot of emotional work on both sides, but no movement.

Moving into “how can I improve” moves into action, and is more empowering. The person can change the outcomes or evaluation through changing their actions. It’s less empowering than coaching, because it’s more about implementing suggestions. The feedback loop is more productive than the evaluation loop, but progress is linear. The disempowerment trap is to return to evaluation through the question of “is this enough?

Coaching is the most empowered space, because it is where the person asks what do I want, the empowered choice loop is where transformation – or exponential growth – happens. The disempowerment trap here is to give away the choice, and ask for direction instead.

I want to be clear that no space in this model is bad, typically we need to visit all of them. However the difference is between people who are highly coachable and those that are not is the time spent in each place.

Someone highly coachable:

  • Gets some evaluative feedback.
  • Takes suggestions well.
  • Figures out how they want to build on it and what they want to do.

This follows the top path, and as a result very little time is spent in evaluation, some time in developmental, but the bulk of the time is in the coaching space, and that extends well beyond the time spent together.

Someone who is not coachable:

  • Doesn’t have ideas on how they can improve.
  • Asks what to do instead.
  • Falls into an evaluation loop.

This follows the bottom path, and cycles down and around, i.e. even after moving into developmental, returns to evaluative. The bulk of the time is spent in evaluation, with a small amount of time in developmental, and none in coaching.

Whilst the evaluation space is not a hugely productive one, it’s unwise to skip it entirely. Someone who is hard on themselves might seem very receptive to feedback and full of ideas about how they can improve, but if they come to this from the idea that they are falling short and need to do better, it’s less empowering than if they are confident they are doing well and valued, and deciding what they can do to truly thrive.