How to have One on Ones with your team as a Product Manager

As a Product Manager, I love having One on Ones, or 1:1s as I like to call them, with my direct manager, whether it’s a Director or VP of Product or the CEO. On a bi-weekly cadence, we get thirty minutes, or more if needed, to connect on a number of topics affecting myself and my team in the present, as well a chance to talk about the future including my growth and the company’s future.

Over the last few years, I quickly realized a byproduct of these conversations: fewer surprises during my formal reviews. The One on Ones gave my manager and myself enough time to identify and nip issues in the bud before they blossom to cause havoc. Not only do I look better in those reviews, but my manager is even happier.

The format of One on Ones is geared towards a manager and their direct report, which is probably why most Product Managers don’t have One on Ones with their team members.

And I think that’s a tremendous lost opportunity for Product Managers. Here’s why:

The essential goal of a One on One is to provide a platform for two people to talk and help each other do and be their best; as a Product Manager, I want to help my designers and developers be their best and have meaningful work that stretches them and helps them grow.

When I meet individually with my teammates, I’ll always start with this one question: How can I make your life better?

And depending on their role and seniority, I adjust our conversation in the following ways:

One on Ones with your Designers

While working with junior to mid-level designers and having a pretty heavy UX-background myself, I usually focus the conversation the following:

  1. Type of work: Are they finding the work they are doing stimulating and related to their interests?
  2. Career growth: What new skills do they want to learn and which skills are they looking to develop more?

Depending on their answers, I can either prioritize certain projects or reach out to other teams and the designer’s manager to see if they can help.

For example, recently my designer mentioned she wanted to learn more about value propositions so she can design better solutions and so I introduced her to my favourite value prop template and book on it.

 

One on Ones with your Developers

Similar to designers, I tend to ask the same questions to my developers as they also want to work on interesting projects and improve their existing skills and also want to work on interesting projects.

Usually, our conversations tend to be more process-focused as we delve into how we make our processes better so we can increase our velocity. Sometimes these discussions turn out to be very strategic as sometimes they’ll reveal they’ve been working on a side project that is pure genius, and we quickly integrate it into the product!

 

One on One with your Interns

I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of interns/co-ops in a development role. With my interns, I’ve taken a more of a mentor role, since I was once in their shoes not too long ago. Usually, I focus on the following:

  1. How to navigate the workplace (common etiquette, how to carry yourself, etc.)?
  2. What projects and/or skills they want to work on?

Recently I had a co-op student who revealed he hated CSS during our 1:1, and with that knowledge, I worked with the CTO and the VP of Engineering to create a project that would test his skills. He ended up loving that project so much that until today he keeps on advocating the company to other co-ops students!

 

One on Ones have been very powerful for me as a direct report, but they have been just as important when having with my teammates to ensure they are getting the most out of their experience as well. So if you aren’t having One on Ones with your teammates yet, I heavily suggest you do so you can be the servant leaders they deserve!

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