How to structure 1:1 meetings

Gabriella Estevam
29 March 2021

One of the best things we can give each other as colleagues is our time and attention. Therefore, to receive pertinent advice and make the most out of 1:1 and subgroup meetings, it is imperative to effectively communicate our immediate goals and expectations.

I would consider myself a goal-oriented individual, so concretely breaking down overarching goals into smaller to-do items helps me not only outline what needs to be done to get to the finish line, but also allows me to schedule and prioritize my efforts. As a side-effect, this also helps me better communicate, having already reflected and planned out what I hope to accomplish in a given timeline.

I have found the best way to prepare for 1:1 or subgroup meetings is by using the usual and brilliantly simple slideshow, as having a visual aid grounds the conversation.

When sitting down to prepare any 1:1 or subgroup meeting, I first ask myself a few questions:

  1. What is my biggest current goal?
  2. What have I done to progress towards accomplishing that goal?
  3. What do I have left to do?
  4. What comes next?
  5. Is there anything else I’d like to talk about?

In thinking about these questions, I try to keep it fairly discrete. As a graduate student my obvious biggest goal is to graduate, but my biggest goal of the month might be to make some mutants for an assay, so I stay focused on that and begin outlining my thoughts on the first slide itself. Since we meet about twice a month for subgroup meetings, I keep the slides focused on monthly goals. However, for 1:1 meetings the outlined goals can be more overarching if I think I need perspective on the project as a whole, or if meeting 1:1 on a weekly basis I’ll focus the discussion on plans for the week.

Once I have my talking points outlined, I then proceed to make the rest of the slides. At this stage it becomes like preparing an extremely condensed group meeting, where the focus is on showing the experimental workflow and data I have collected, or simply in bullet points listing the things I have accomplished or have yet to do. One thing I place great time in when preparing for the meeting are the questions “what comes next?” and “is there anything else I’d like to talk about?” mainly because these might be less tangible than let’s say cloning a mutant. These are the questions that are the most reflective about the present and future. For instance, what will making this protein mutant allow me to do next and why is that important for my project? Clearly explaining how and why your goals are important for your project, career, etc. is the crux of a productive meeting.

If the slides have been thoughtfully prepared, it should then be pretty easy to discuss your plans, show your productivity, and manage your time in the meeting. Everything is at your fingertips, and if you forget or run out of time to discuss a topic, it’s there in writing to discuss later on Slack, in passing, or whatever you find most appropriate.

Remember, 1:1 and subgroup meetings are your time! It’s your time to get feedback, advice, vent about why things aren’t working, express happiness about things that are working, ask for support, brainstorm, and map out next steps! Be thoughtful and use your time wisely.

Here’s an example of one of my own subgroup meeting slides.