How we do 1on1s and the impact they had in our company

Daniel F Lopes

It was April 2016 when we first started doing company-wide 1on1s. At least in an official and regular way.

1on1s are conversations between two people in the company. We started these conversations with the goal of accelerating growth, both at a professional and individual level, and to open more windows of communication for feedback and questions about the company.

How we do it

Throughout the years, our 1on1s have been done by 3 people (me, Rafael and Gonçalo). We distributed the whole company throughout ourselves, and exchanged people we've done 1on1s with every 3 sessions or based on which person we were working the closest with, with an average of a 1on1 every 1.5 or 2 months.

To keep track of who's doing 1on1 with whom, we have a Trello board with each person's distribution for each month.

During each session we take notes and share a subset of the relevant insights between us, so that we are aware of the current issues, what needs to be solved, and have proper context for next conversations with that person.

Conversations are scheduled with that person and placed on our calendars. When scheduling we ask people to think about what they would like to speak on our 1on1 and take note of that.

Some 1on1s are done in person, and others remotely, using Zoom.us. Even though we are a distributed company, whenever possible we make the effort to do 1on1s in person, since we have noticed it improves the quality and deepness of the conversations.

The focus of the conversation

1on1s are top of mind. This means that on 1on1s people speak about what they want to talk the most. Be them questions, concerns, problems, their future, etc. These can be either professional or personal.

These vary from people to people, and naturally from time to time as well. Some people speak only about professional issues, others tend to go more personal. Some are very pragmatic and short, others go deeper and longer. There's no right and wrong.

Sometimes beyond what's top of mind, you can sense there's something deeper going on. We try to provide an open, safe space to chat through that if people want to without being pushy.



Asking "How are you, really?" or sharing your own concern sometimes is an unblocker. A problem shared is a problem (partially) solved.

After the main points, we sometimes have a set of questions that we may or may not ask, depending if we find it relevant or not for that 1on1. Some examples of those questions are:

  • How do you think that Whitesmith, as a company, is going?
  • What should we improve?
  • A good and a bad thing that happened last month?
  • What worries you?
  • How do you see yourself in a few months? What you would like to be doing? What you would like to learn?
  • What goals would you like to set until the next 1on1?

And of course, 1on1s are a good place for the listener to grow as well, so we also ask for feedback on ourselves.

At the end, we should ensure that the person always leaves the 1on1 better and/or more aligned than when it got in, that it provided some sort of breakthrough or deeper understanding.

This is what makes a 1on1 successful.

Impact

1on1s were, by far, one of the activities with the biggest impact at Whitesmith. It gave everyone a tremendous personal and emotional growth and great increase of alignment between the individual and the company (which means sometimes the individual had to adjust and sometimes the company): we got more and better feedback about how to steer the company, people understood better the decisions made, felt to have influence in the decisions taken, and consequently we believe, this was crucial to maintain a very low turnover rate.

Whitesmith is today a stronger and better company, and much of it is a result of the growth and alignment provided by 1on1s.


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