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I work at a start up, and we've just promoted a few interested and apt senior engineers into managerial roles. Additionally, we've gone on a bit of a hiring spree and need to start doing a better job at managing our people, because now we have actual people to manage.

One of the things the company would like to do is implement 1:1s – nothing unusual here: a direct report has a 1 on 1 with his/her manager at a periodic interval. I think this is an important component and am fully onboard with this. However, the kicker is that because of the recent promotions, management would like to start of doing 2 on 1s, where it's direct report, his/her manager, and the manager's manager ("MM"). This is the full hierarchy of the company for all intents and purposes. The theory is that with "MM" (who has been managing everyone for a while now), he can get a better idea of how the 1:1s are going and keep an initial eye out to see what's working/not-working/etc.

I'm in the middle here where I have direct reports, and I have a good rapport with them, and I do not necessarily like the fact that 1. 1:1's are becoming 2:1s, and 2. 2:1s are going to be fairly regimented in structure.

From an empathetic standpoint, if I were in the direct report's position, I would prefer to keep things more casual and not be in a 2-1 situation. I feel like I would close down and not give my actual feedback.

With all that said, it's very much my opinion and intuition that tells me this is strange approach, prone to yielding poor results. I don't have any empirical data on the subject, so it's hard for me to properly address the situation without any potential bias.

Does anyone have any research on this – is a 2:1 approach really not that bad? Are regimented 1:1s (or 2:1s) effective?

Thanks.

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    This largely depends on the relation of your direct reports with your manager. If it's a close, friendly working relation then you might be OK. If it's not, then people might be reluctant to share things just because your manager is also there. You also mention in your question that you don't necessarily like the fact that 1:1s will turn in 2:1s. Why is that? Your direct reports probably feel the same. Then, this also depends on culture. Where are you located? Different cultures have different power distance indexes – Bogdan Dec 17 '20 at 17:21
  • @Bogdan Thanks for the comments. We are located on the West Coast of the US. Generally, everyone has a good rapport with each other and it's a friendly environment. To answer the "Why is that question" – because I feel like any possible gain of having the "MM" present will be negated by the direct report's possible apprehension. Like it's a bad risk-reward. I also worry that with a 2:1, it's going to more difficult for me to really understand my DR if I don't have that breathing room. Like you said, I anticipate they may feel similarly. – Friendly King Dec 17 '20 at 17:55
  • In my company we would start with a 2:1 for the more general stuff, then the non-direct manager would leave to discuss more personal things 1:1. Maybe it could be a good compromise for you, especially since it sounds like your manager is more interested in the high level overview. – Leherenn Dec 18 '20 at 10:34
  • "he can get a better idea of how the 1:1s are going and keep an initial eye out to see what's working/not-working/etc" - Is there a chance you've misunderstood and this is meant as a one-off thing, for the people who are switching managers, and then will go back to normal 1-on-1s? (this is what we did just last month when mine switched, for a single meeting, and are now back to normal) – Izkata Dec 18 '20 at 15:12
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Group Discussions Don't Replace One-on-One Communications

While there's a place for more leadership involvement, I certainly wouldn't replace one-on-ones with larger meetings. Especially in IT, this can be counter-productive for a number of reasons such as:

  • IT often attracts introverts, who may not do well in larger meetings.
  • Company leadership is often (but not universally) poorly-suited to handling the quirky personalities of IT people.
  • High power-distance cultures will often lose important feedback through such a process.
  • Senior leadership will either be silently observing (which can have a chilling effect) or actively interceding in the process. In either case, this can undermine communications, as well as reduce the trust in and empowerment of middle managers.

Open-door policies, 360-degree reviews, and leadership/management mentoring are often better fits for addressing Peter principle problems.

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  • I definitely agree. I have had experiences where 2+ direct superiors pulled me into a meeting with them and it felt more like an interrogation or ganging-up than a 1:1. My current employer does "skip-level" 1:1s at a lower frequency than 1:1s with direct managers -- much better practice IMO – eques Dec 18 '20 at 15:36
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I have no academic backing on what I am going to write as my answer here but am drawing on my experience plus my own predicted reaction if I were a subordinate meeting with my boss and his/her boss.

I can only imagine that the discussion would be a complete waste of time because the politics of such a dynamic would require all three of us to be on our most appropriate, political behavior.

If you are unsure of a new manager's potential performance, you have two options: don't put that person in that role or train them. Actually, the latter you should do no matter what.

You can do your due diligence on a manager's performance by selecting a few of his/her subordinates and interview them, conduct employee surveys, and looking for other manager-subordinate signals of displeasure. None of these are perfect control actions; however, it will beat 2:1 everyday, I opine.

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