One-on-One Meetings: 5 Common Mistakes Product Managers Should Avoid

A man and woman meeting to discuss their ideas and laugh

Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post written by Fellow.app

Product Managers are often described by their hard skills: technical expertise, data understanding, an eye for UX design, knowledge of market trends… the list goes on and on. 

However, we don’t often talk about the soft skills that make someone a great Product Manager:

As Satya Patel (former VP of Product at Twitter) argues, great Product Managers are constantly communicating with their colleagues and developing strong peer relationships:

“As Product Managers, we are the CEOs of our products,” says Patel. “We lead by example. We succeed by making others successful. We listen first and make certain that others feel that they’ve been heard. We pursue diverse opinions. We rally our teams behind a vision that yields passion and commitment. We value and foster strong team relationships.”

And what’s the best way to listen actively, gather diverse perspectives, and build rapport with the people you work with? Scheduling recurring one-on-one meetings.

This post compiles 5 of the most common mistakes that Product Managers make in regards to 1-on-1s, so you can avoid them altogether and start developing great relationships with your fellow teammates.

Let’s begin!

1) Assuming that one-on-ones are just for managers and direct reports

If you’re a Product Manager, you probably have one-on-one meetings with the person you report to – whether it’s a Director, VP of Product, or CEO.

It’s true that one-on-ones are one of the most important tools that managers have to build trust and rapport with their direct reports. However, even if you don’t manage people directly, scheduling peer one-on-ones with members of your team is a great habit you should adopt: 

“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,” says Irfan Ebrahim, a Product and UX consultant in Toronto. “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.”

It’s hard to believe that we work with the same people every day – yet we know very little about their goals, level of engagement, and the blockers that prevent them from doing their best work.

The goal of one-on-ones is to help you develop positive relationships, maximize team productivity, and open up communication channels between departments that work synergistically with another.

“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,” says Ebrahim. “So if you aren’t having One on Ones with your teammates yet, I heavily suggest you do so you can be the servant leader they deserve!”

2) Not collaborating on an agenda ahead of time

Coming to your one-on-ones unprepared will only result in awkward silences and blank stares. As Julie Zhuo (VP of Product Design at Facebook) argues in The Making of a Manager:

“It’s rare that an amazing conversation springs forth when nobody has a plan for what to talk about.”

This might sound obvious, but most people are still showing up to their meetings unprepared, and forgetting to write down the things they should remember and what kind of progress was made.

That’s why one of the best practices you can adopt is blocking some time in the morning to prepare talking points and questions for all your meetings of the day:

“Every morning, I’ve gotten into the habit of scanning my calendar and compiling a list of questions for each person I’m meeting with,” says Zhuo.

Some one-on-one questions you can add to the agenda include:

  • How’s life outside of work? / How’s your work-life balance?
  • What have been your top priorities since we last met?
  • What’s something I should consider changing or start doing?
  • How can I make work better for you?

Pro tip: Use a shared document to build your meeting agenda. This will let you prepare for the meeting and know what the other person wants to talk about, even before the meeting starts.

The Making of a Manager by Pablo Stanley / Julie Zhuo
Illustration by Pablo Stanley in “The Making of a Manager”

3) Always meeting in the office

A group of Stanford researchers found that people’s ability to think creatively increases by an average of 60% when they are walking, and remains high when they come back from a walking meeting. 

That sounds like a great reason to take your one-on-one meetings outside! 🚶‍♂️🚶‍♀️ 

In her TED Talk on walking meetings, Nilofer Merchant explains it this way: 

“Instead of going to coffee meetings or fluorescent-lit conference room meetings, I ask people to go on a walking meeting, to the tune of 20 to 30 miles a week. It’s changed my life.”

So next time you schedule a one-on-one meeting with someone, consider switching up the location and going outside the office.

“I’ve learned that if you want to get out of the box thinking, you need to literally get out of the box,” says Merchant.

4) Making it a status update or project meeting

The purpose of one-on-ones is to get to know your colleagues and build more cohesive cross-functional teams. These meetings are there for you to talk about challenges, roadblocks, and ways in which you could work better together. They’re not meant for sharing status updates, looking at metrics, or working on projects.

According to Irfan Ebrahim, there are two things you can focus on when having one-on-ones with junior to mid-level employees:

  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?

And as your company grows, it’s a good practice to schedule one-on-ones with the team leads who you work with the most. This will break down communication silos and ensure that everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals. 

Some questions you can ask team leads in your company include:

  • What could I do to make your job easier?
  • What should we start/stop doing to work better as a team?
  • How can I make your life easier when we launch new features or make changes in the product?
Two people meeting and laughing about their amazing jokes

5) Letting action items slip through the cracks

If you want all your meetings to have a clear purpose, you should write down takeaways and remember to follow through on them. 

One of the biggest mistakes most people make is attending meetings where nobody takes the initiative to record the next steps, leading to confusion about what to do next. 

Assigning action items at the end of your one-on-ones will help you keep track of all the promises you make and easily follow-up in future meetings.

“After the meeting, the follow-ups need to be treated with as much care as the preparation,” says Julie Zhuo. “A single meeting is not an end unto itself; it is a stepping-stone in the much longer path of creating something valuable for the world.”

There you have them! 5 common mistakes you should avoid to start having meaningful and effective one-on-ones. 

We hope this post inspired you to schedule recurring one-on-ones with your fellow teammates and develop positive work relationships.
And of course, if you’d like to use software to help you along the way, you can check out Fellow.app.

About Fellow.app

Fellow helps managers and their teams have more effective 1-on-1s and team meetings, exchange feedback, and track goals – all in one place. Try it for free here www.fellow.app

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