Hi, I've been lurking for a while, enjoying the array of experience and knowledge represented on this board. I'm a Senior Software Engineer, but I'm interested in moving into a small-team lead position. So I've been learning about and practicing management techniques wherever I can, in all areas of my life.

A few times here, people have mentioned scheduling one-on-ones with their boss. Now, my boss does not do one-on-ones, and I've never done one-on-ones, but I want to try them. My concern is that I don't want them to turn into status meetings.

We already have status meetings, and in them my manager likes lots of detail. That's fine, of course. But I find that we can spend hours talking about these details, many of which are speculative, and we end up wasting time. Furthermore, I think he feels comfortable about my status with less detail. So I've been letting him ask the questions, and I've been giving him concise answers. This seems to be working.

But this is not a one-on-one. This format does not allow me to talk freely. I feel more like I'm being grilled than like I'm sharing. And while this format is somewhat efficient for status, the dynamic seems all wrong for a one-on-one. (Am I right?)

The reason I'm writing this--and perhaps this is a little premature--is because I'm still trying to understand what I should expect and what limits I should place on the meeting. I do not want my 10 minutes to turn into a status meeting, for example, but my manager may still want to ask questions, and that should be okay. So what kinds of questions are within scope of that first 10 minutes, and which should be off-limits? I assume it's okay for me to assert control over my 10 minutes, but how do I know when the meeting is getting off-track?

I think I have some idea of the answers to these questions, but I'd still like to hear your thoughts.


MikeK's picture

Sorry to be blunt Tim, but have you tried asking your boss if you could have One on Ones that are NOT status meetings and ask specifically for the first 10 minutes to be your topics and discussions?

If he/she knows that is what you want, then you should be able to focus it on that. If he/she agrees, feel free to offer or just create the agenda for your boss and use it in the meetings. If you specifically put Status updates or other items in the boss' 10 minutes, then you can also deflect early status questions to that section of the meeting.

If you boss will not facilitate, then, you easily could, it doesn't change the function of the O3 at all, might even impress your boss.

Mike K

TimK's picture

Hi, Mike. Thanks for writing. I do want to ask my boss to have one-on-ones with me and will ask him, because it's time, regardless of anything else. I'm also ready to facilitate, which I probably will end up doing. But before I go into any meeting, I like to know two things: What do I want to accomplish? What do I want to avoid?

Perhaps a concrete example will help. Let's say I want to present to the rest of the team on topic X. What I want to accomplish is to get his buy-in, so that I can spend time preparing the presentation. What I want to avoid is getting into a detailed planning meeting on topic X. How do I handle this situation? I also want to avoid spending time discussing tangents; I want to stay focused.

Here's where my mind is, and maybe you can correct me if you think I'm way off. During my 10 minutes, if we start along a tangent, I can make a note and ask if we can come back to that. Similarly, if he asks a question regarding topic X, I can say, "That's a good question. Let me make a note of that and address it in the presentation. Is that okay?"

Lastly, please excuse my silly, beginner questions. I've never used the 10+10+10 minute format before, and I don't really know what to expect. So I figured, even if my questions are stupid questions, it would be nice to get advice from someone who has successfully used the format.

Thanks so much for your patience.


MikeK's picture

Tim, there are no silly questions. Don't worry about it. I've only been doing O3s for a few months now but they are great! I find them a lot easier than I expected actually but that does take some effort for you to prepare a little ahead of time.

Your idea to address ideas and state its a good idea and that you will try to work it into your presentation is a great idea. You obviously need to use your 10 minutes for what you want but if that is too cover a presentation, just remember you only have 10 minutes. Going over the headings only or asking your boss for his 5 suggested main points (without details) will limit the time required. Always remember, if you need more time, you can schedule a separate meeting for that, you should try to keep the format of the O3s for what they are intended for. You mentioned wanted to know the purpose and outcome of the meeting and you need to consider this for the O3 in general, not just what you might cover that day.

The purpose is to improve communication with your boss/directs and to provide an informal and regular time to work on work issues/coaching and feedback and other career development. That is it! You don't really need to have a purpose for each meeting or each 10 minute block. Just have the O3s for what they are intended as and the peices within it will work themselves out...

Hope that helps. The few meetings will take some getting used to but it gets better and easier, believe me!!

TimK's picture

Thanks, Mike! I'm looking forward to my first O3 with my manager.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Tim (and Mike)

I don't recommend you follow the general path you're going down right now.

I'm not suggesting O3s with your boss are not a good thing, they are. But you're probably not going to get very far by attempting to facilitate the meeting yourself. I don't even want to think about what many managers I know would say if one of their directs said something that could be interpreted as, 'no, now it's my turn'.

If you want to have a weekly meeting with your boss, use O3s as a concept to shape your thinking. The 10+10+10 will NOT work here - you're subordinate, and you can't run his meeting, it would seem.

I would schedule a half hour, with the THOUGHT in my head that it would be 15+15. You start by asking about all the things you want to know about EXCEPT status. Get his input, brief him, whatever. At the end of your time, give him a status report (written) or none at all if you have other venues for status reporting. Then tell him that's all you have.

Look, you can't make your boss have the right attitude for O3s. Maybe he will get it, but it will probably come gradually. So, give him something that he will tolerate that will get you moving where you want to go, and see what happens.

(I've assumed herein that you don't have directs based on you comments. If you DO, DON'T start ANYTHING with your boss for 3-4 months after you are doing O3s with YOUR folks. Nothing takes the place of real experience.)

Hope this helps!


MikeK's picture

Well your response is very surprising and interesting to me Mark, and my experience has shown otherwise. It seems (and I might be wrong) that you are assuming there is not a good relationship here with Tim and his boss. [I am assuming there is a good open relationship] I for one have a very open relationship with my boss and even though it was my idea to start O3s with him and my directs, he has thanked me for it since, showed appreciation for me doing so and and likes me to facilitate them (Which I started from the beginning since they were "my idea" as it has been put). He loves it when I help control a meeting and I am often asked by him to help facilitate other meetings with him (that he organizes) since he knows I can do it well.

I think Mark, your concern is valid, but it must depend on Tim's relationship with his boss. I for one, would not be worried one bit to say, "OK thanks, we'll cover that in a minute, I have a few more things I would like to use my time for, is that fair?" Since this is known on the agenda and discussed ahead of time, we both know this is the best way to complete the O3 and it works fine.

Now, if you're scared of your boss or you don't have that open of a relationship Tim, then Mark is surely correct, tread lightly. And I'd definitely agree that you should try to have your O3s with your own directs for several months first. Then try them with your boss.

mauzenne's picture
Admin Role Badge

Mark may be reacting to the following in Tim's first note:

[quote="TimK"]...I'm still trying to understand what I should expect and what limits I should place on the meeting. I do not want my 10 minutes to turn into a status meeting, for example, but my manager may still want to ask questions, and that should be okay. So what kinds of questions are within scope of that first 10 minutes, and which should be off-limits? I assume it's okay for me to assert control over my 10 minutes, but how do I know when the meeting is getting off-track?[/quote]

My initial reaction was also one of concern. I would suggest that telling your boss that questions he may want to ask are "off limits" during a particular portion of the meeting is fairly ineffective. In my experience, going to one's boss and placing "limits" on a meeting or otherwise attempting to "assert control" over the meeting is a fairly difficult task.

I am certain there are relationships that would permit such frank discussion (Mike K, you mentioned you have this), but as a general rule, like Mark, I would discourage it. Learning new (even if you think they're great) management techniques and working on getting YOUR BOSS to implement them is a mistake. My recommendation has always been "Focus on yourself, set an example, and be prepared to share when asked about the RESULTS you've achieved."

Perhaps my reaction to Tim's question is a result of hearing an increasing number of comments around "how do I get my boss to start practicing this stuff?" Like I said earlier, this is a dangerous approach ... I've seen many a folk get hurt by going down that path and when I see evidence of those thoughts, I get concerned.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Mike (and Tim)

Thanks for your comments. This is one of those times that if we all knew everyone else's assumptions, communication would be effortless.

Mike, you're right. If the relationship with Tim's boss is "good and open", then a somewhat direct and respectful request and a pleasant attempt at facilitating is probably reasonable.

If Tim were to say that he thought it was, I would tell him sure, go ahead and ask.

But after I said that, I would tell him my sense is that his relationship with his boss is not as good as you assume, and perhaps not as good as he might say off the top off his head. He's asked the question here, as opposed to just going to his boss. If I had a great relationship with my boss, I would just go ahead and ask. And, the comments about how the boss handles the meetings thus far concern me. Bosses who, regarding operations, drive to a level of detail that approaches abstracted minimalism, in my experience, are often hiding an avoidance of the personal, interpersonal, social, and conceptual - all of which would be potentially on the table in a normal one on one.

So, I'd hate to assume that the relationship is good, suggest Tim go forward with a relaxed way, only to have the O3 start poorly. Afterwards, were I coaching him directly, I'd have to admit that there was contravening facts in evidence.

In all such situations, one must be cautious around one's assumptions. The rule is to allow assumptions, but to test them by running the result of the assumption being true and false in a 2x2 matrix with the Boss's possible responses. I call this, believe it or not, Horstman's Wager of Management Coaching. (Apologies to Pascal.)

In this case, the wager says that while my cautious approach is perhaps less likely to yield immediate results, it completely avoids the potentially disastrous results of a different choice. And, as an adviser, lacking exceptionally detailed knowledge and a great relationship, I've found discretion is often a very good friend.

Sorry I'm not more supportive of the direct approach. My approach is slower, but less risky. I'd have to know more to suggest more risk.

Hope this helps!


MikeK's picture

Thanks mike and mark, that really clears up why you are concerned and what backing you have for it. Its easy to get used to your own experience I guess (and in my case, I've only had 2 bosses) so I appreciate the extra explanation to understand the suggested caution. I hope Tim can smoothly introduce O3s with directs like you've suggested, and I absolutly agree with both of you that its better to work on your own management skills first and then let your results demonstrate themselves.

Appreciate the clarification!!

Mike K

TimK's picture

Wow. Everyone posts on Mother's Day? :) Thanks so much for the discussion, Mike & Mike & Mark.

I do think I have a good relationship with my boss, in a way, which I'll get to in a moment. However, this is his first management gig, and I think it shows.

In particular, what Mark wrote:[quote]Bosses who, regarding operations, drive to a level of detail that approaches abstracted minimalism, in my experience, are often hiding an avoidance of the personal, interpersonal, social, and conceptual - all of which would be potentially on the table in a normal one on one. [/quote]This hits the nail on the head. We have a good relationship, in that I can always go to him for advice on tasks, and he is willing to help out when I need it. I also feel very comfortable suggesting agenda items, and I frequently promise to get more details later, rather than work out the details right there on the spot.

But I frequently don't know what's happening in the rest of the team, much less the rest of the organization (but I know people whom I can ask, a double-whammy), and I don't know what he thinks of me. And he doesn't know what I want for my career, nor what excites me about the work I do, nor what kinds non-task concerns bother me on a day-to-day basis.

So I firstly want to improve these communications with my manager. And I secondly want to get some exposure to the kinds of interactions that go on in a one-on-one.

But it doesn't actually have to be a one-on-one. We don't have to call it a one-on-one. Now, based on Mark's comments, I'm thinking I should just ask to have a regular, weekly meeting to improve communication. I should request that it be near the middle of the week. That will keep most status questions off the table, since he usually does his weekly status on Friday.

There's something else, coincidentally, that's happening this week, which highlights these issues. It's my one-year anniversary at the company, and my manager has given me a "Performance Evaluation and Career Development" form, which I am expected to fill out. And then we can compare notes: how I think I'm doing compared to what he thinks. Dandy, eh? Wait-- Scratch that. Not how well I'm doing. How well I [i]did[/i]. It really hit home the fact that for most of these categories here, I have a very poor idea what he wants and what he expects.