Startup Best Practices 9 - Structuring One on Ones to Maximize Your Team's Success

The startups that build and retain the best teams develop a huge competitive advantage. It’s no surprise that managers are the most important influencers of team development and retention.

The most frequent and consequently most powerful tool for managers to coach, develop and lead their teams are one-on-ones, weekly meetings between a manager and his or her individual reports. Most one-on-ones are ad-hoc, loosely structured 15-30 minute meetings. While extemporaneous meetings can work, leaders who manage their teams this way forgo an important opportunity to further their team’s success.

So, how does a manager run excellent one-on-ones? In How Google Works, Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg, former-CEO and SVP of Products at Google, articulate the structure for one-on-one meetings prescribed to Google by the legendary mentor Bill Campbell, who has advised Steve Jobs, Scott Cook and many other pioneers, including a few Redpoint founding teams.

There are two parts to Bill Campbell’s one-on-one structure: a list compiled before the meeting and a format for the meeting.

Before each meeting, both the manager and the report should write down the five things each want to cover in the meeting. At the start of the meeting, they should compare lists, and they should find significant overlap. This initial step confirms both people are prioritizing the same tasks. If the lists diverge meaningfully, it’s time for the manager to reassess, coalesce and articulate the priorities of the team.

After running through those five to seven line items, Campbell suggests structuring the meeting in four sections:

  1. Performance on job requirements: This is the time to review sales figures, product milestones, customer satisfaction, budget numbers, etc.
  2. Relationships with peer groups: As a startup grows, cross-team collaboration becomes increasingly important to achieving milestones. Discussing the state of these relationships can expose limiting factors in the team’s success, places where a manager can exert influence to dissolve roadblocks.
  3. Leadership: Growth, learning and self-actualization are keys to employee happiness and success. A fraction of the 11 should be focused on helping a report develop those skills which include mentoring other teammates, hiring and firing, and team motivation.
  4. Innovation: This is the time during the 11 to make sure the teammate is continually thinking ahead, asking hard questions of the team and the business and surfacing novel trends/technologies/best practices from outside the team.

Terrific managers and team leaders alter the trajectory of their startups by inspiring, enabling and empowering their teams to achieve audacious goals. Great management is a discipline, a daily practice of small things like a well-structured 11, that when summed across years of collaboration create dramatic and sweeping change.

Published 2014-09-26 in startups  culture  best practices 


I am partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.

Read this next: