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About my book, "One on one meetings are underrated":

I've spent the last 22 years developing software and leading or advising startups, offering high-level overviews of strategies, architectures, and workflows. During these years I've seen many attempts to develop products while following what's often called an "Agile" approach. Sadly, I've seen attempts at Agile development fail more often than they succeed. Where I've seen success, it was often because of the efforts of an unusually talented engineer or project manager. And that raises the question, is it correct to ascribe a success to the Agile methodology if the success was in fact dependent on the unique talents of one or two people?

Complex development methodologies promise to be the magical spell that will remove the risk from new projects. But almost anyone who has been in the industry for a few years can tell stories about projects where these methodologies were employed — and failed miserably.

I've therefore come to reject all complex methodologies. In fact, I've only seen one very simple rule that reliably, in all circumstances, improves team dynamics:

Small meetings are more productive than large meetings, and one-on-one meetings are the most productive of all.

In any large meeting there will be some people who are disengaged, perhaps even bored. By contrast, in a one-on-one meeting, both people need to be there, as the meeting would not occur unless one of those people needed to say something to the other individual.

But once we accept this rule, a few questions arise:

1. Who should you meet with? In a large organization you cannot possibly have a one-on-one meeting with everyone, so how do you determine who you should be talking to?

2. How do you judge the caliber of your communication? Often you have to set strict rules for employees to follow. The best way to do this is with honest, forthright, direct communication. Sometimes such blunt communication can feel overly assertive, but there is no need for it to ever be abusive or personal. In this book we review several such conversations, drawn from real-life encounters, looking at both successful rule-setting as well as situations where communication misfired and relationships were damaged.

3. Do you ever find yourself conflicted when you try to address the efficiency of hiring? Often you may want many of your staff to talk to a particular job candidate, yet it is wasteful to have large numbers of your staff talk to individuals who will not be hired. There is a faster and more direct path, which is simply an extended one-on-one session during which you ask question after question of the candidate — drilling down deep into their repertoire of knowledge. In this way you can quickly assess whether they know enough to handle the job you’re hiring for. While this approach can, at times, feel aggressive, it has the advantage of being respectful of the candidate's time, as well as your own.

4. As a leader, you need to give feedback to your employees. But exactly what should you share? Is it necessary to say something positive? Is it necessary to say something negative? You will have heard, in other one-on-one conversations, what the employee’s peers think of them. Should you share this knowledge?

5. Assuming there are still some circumstances where a large group meeting is justified, what are those circumstances?

6. Additionally, consider the controversial issue of whether a manager should ever express anger. Is this ever justified, or is it always a sign of vitriolic, uncontrolled management? Is anger ever productive, or does it simply drive employees away?

In short, a one-on-one meeting is the simplest and most basic tool of management, and yet it is full of subtleties that need to be considered if you’re going to gain the maximum advantage from such conversations.

See my new book "One on one meetings are underrated; Group meetings waste time"


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