How to Make Your Weekly 1:1 Meetings (Actually) Productive

How to Make Weekly 1:1 Meetings Actually ProductiveStanding meetings are under attack.

Just consider a few recent article titles:

Each of these articles argues the same central point: most standing meetings are too long, require too many guests, and have no clear agenda.

We couldn’t agree more with these criticisms, though with one caveat…

Just because many standing meetings are “useless”, that doesn’t mean the whole concept of a regularly occurring meeting needs to be thrown out entirely.

With a few simple tweaks, certain types of standing meetings—particularly weekly 1:1 meetings between managers and their team members—can act as the cornerstone of productive IT management.

For Managers:

How to Make Your Weekly 1:1 Meetings Productive for Your Team Members

From a manager’s standpoint, we’ve previously written about how to host effective meetings, in these two articles.

Follow the basic approach we advocated in those articles—limit your meetings to 20 minutes, define clear goals to accomplish within the week’s meeting, and focus the meeting around producing follow-ups and actions for your team member.

Do this, and you will make your weekly 1:1 meeting productive for your team member.

But, of course, managers don’t hold full responsibility for making weekly 1:1 meetings productive. Their team members have a part to play as well.

For Team Members:

How to Make Your Weekly 1:1 Meetings Productive for Your Manager

As a team member, you have to show up to your 1:1 meetings ready to best serve your manager’s goals for that meeting… and simply completing the follow-ups and actions your manager assigned you last week isn’t enough. You also need to report this progress to your manager in a crisp, clear, and easily digestible manner.

You see—your manager depends on you to regularly report your status because he has to regularly report the status of your project to his manager.

This article sums up the dynamic succinctly:

If your project is important, your boss will be pressed hard to keep his superiors informed of its progress. Smart managers consume status on important projects voraciously. Excellent status reporting means that managers are fully informed of your projects’ health and overall direction without having to get involved themselves. There is particular information your boss needs in order to show her boss that she is on top of things and able to run the show effectively. Provide this information in a way your boss can consume it on a regular basis, and you will fall upstairs so fast your head will spin.

Yes, your manager needs you to do your job. But, just as important, your manager needs you to regularly provide a 30-second, bird’s-eye view of how all of your assignments are coming along so he can maintain a high-level understanding of every workflow he is ultimately responsible for.

Providing this high-level progress reporting to your manager is an important element of your job, and, thankfully, when you use the right template, producing these reports won’t consume all of your time.

After all…

When you produce a weekly progress report to update your manager, remember: he wants to see less, not more.

All your manager really needs to know about your current work queue is:

  • What you’re working on.
  • When it’s due.
  • How much you’ve gotten done.
  • If there are any bottlenecks preventing you from completing it on time.

These key points serve his core needs.

Anything more is a distraction.

Your Weekly Progress Report Template

Creating a spreadsheet that compiles and displays this information will take you less than 30 minutes.

Updating it will take about one minute a day.

Create this spreadsheet in excel, or in whatever collaboration tool your organization uses (Google Drive, Smartsheet, etc.)

  1. Create a new sheet. Title it “[Your Name]’s Progress Report”
  2. Create three columns. Title them, in order:
    1. Project Name
    2. Date Due
    3. % Complete
  3. List each of your projects in the “Project Name Column”, put the due date for each project in the appropriate column, and then place what percentage you’ve completed in the project in the last column.
  4. At the end of every day, update your “% Complete” for the projects you’ve worked on.
  5. During your weekly 1:1 with your manager, open this spreadsheet and use it to frame your discussion.

The Road Ahead: Keep it Simple

When you get a new project, add it to the list.

When a project is completed, mark it 100% and move on.

That’s it. It’s simple.

In fact, you might think it’s too simple, but this basic tool can handle most contingencies.

For example:

What if a project doesn’t have a due date?

Then just put any rough due date on there. You likely have an approximate idea of when it needs to be done.

Should I just put the whole project as one entry, or break larger projects down into smaller milestones?

That depends on the scope of the project, the length of the project timeline, and whether it’s already been broken into meaningful milestones. As a general rule: Put the minimum number of entries needed to accurately communicate the project’s scope and progress.

What if the project scope/due date/assignment changes?

Then add the changes to your spreadsheet.

In short: Don’t get too caught in the details. Just put down the most accurate information you have in the moment and adjust as you go.

It is better to start this process, and adjust along the way, then to get caught up in the “what ifs” and never get started.

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