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The first one-on-one

Your first one-on-one with someone is important! You may already know the person well or not, either way, this is where your new working relationship begins – let’s make a good impression! This first one-on-one would usually happen in the first couple of days of them starting, if not on day one! The typical agenda is to go through all the processes they need to follow, but is that really going to show them how fun your place is to work?!

Starting a new job should be an exciting time, of course, there are the usual formalities like HR forms, learning where the fire escapes are, etc. if these aren’t dull enough we don’t want to add to that in our first one-on-one!

You want them to feel energised and eager to work with the team. The first one-on-one can set this tone if done in the right way. This is the start of the relationship, so like any friendship you need to get to know each other. An informal and relaxed environment will help put you both at ease and remove any formal tendencies.

The questions you ask will largely define how this first one-on-one goes. Put yourself in the other person’s position, would the questions you ask put you to sleep or inspire you? This is not the place to go through your Definition of Done or coding etiquette, it’s the time learn as much as you can about them and try to build a rapport. It’s a time to show that their manager (you) is not a complete idiot!

I like this blog by Lara Hogan – Questions for our first 1:1. The questions are a good way to break any tension and hopefully start some good chats. The favourite baked goods question is valuable and could hit the spot at the right time – I do like the odd white choc chip cookie now and then!

A few other questions I like are:

  • Are they are a morning/afternoon person? (find out when they like to be in the zone)
  • When is best to have our one-on-one? (you want to set this time when it only suits one of you. Don’t do it when there in the zone, find their preferred time)
  • What is really important to you? (this may not be for the first one-on-one, but it’s good to know what means something to them outside of work. (family, pets, hobby) Then you can show an interest in this too by asking questions. Also, if you want to get them a gift you have ideas that could make it extra special)

Building a rapport is crucial to any relationship, making a connection with the other person can show you have an interest in them and help gain trust in each other. Finding something you both have in common can make this process much easier, maybe you already know something from the interview process that you can bring up. As I’m highly intellectual (!!), I usually start with football (or sports) and go from there. I’m still waiting to have a Fulham fan on my team! It’s not always easy finding a connection, but this blog by Lighthouse might give you some inspiration – 81 Ways How to Build Rapport With Anyone You Work With.

The first one-on-one is an important step that should be approached carefully and with some thought. By preparing, you can show that you have an interest in the person as a human being and care about their future in the organisation. For the new person to feel safe and supported is the springboard they need to grow and build bonds with the team.






2 responses to “The first one-on-one”

  1. Jason Evanish avatar

    Hi Steve,

    Great post. Starting on the right foot with your one on ones is so important to building a strong relationship with your team.

    One thing I’d add is that it can sometimes be awkward. You have to push past this and be willing to stick with it. Your first question you bring may not be a hit, so you should have a few you think might work.

    You may also find they’re not entirely comfortable with you (who knows what their last job was like). When that’s the case, building trust is super important. That means keeping any promises and looking for opportunities to step up to make them feel more comfortable.

    These questions in particular I’ve found to be a great way to start a new relationship whether they’re new to just your team or your whole company:


    1. Steve avatar

      Thanks for the comment Jason. Good point about having a few questions ready in case the first one isn’t a hit. I’ll take a look at the questions in the blog.


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