· 4 mins · Productive Meetings

How Zapier does remote one-on-one meetings

Avatar of Paige Magarrey Paige Magarrey

It’s no secret that we believe in the power of one-on-one meetings – and that the most amazing managers do one-on-ones with their team. But how do great managers actually make one-on-ones count? How do they facilitate a meaningful, impactful conversation? And how the &%^$#! do they do it when their team is 100% remote?!

To learn more about how to nail those remote meetings, we’re talking to Zapier! 🎉 Maker of the magical task automation integrations that connect all your apps, Zapier is also a fully distributed team. They have over 150 team members spread across 15 time zones in 17 countries. 🗺

We sat down with James Carr, Infrastructure Engineering Lead at Zapier, to learn all about what’s on his agenda, how he gets his team to open up and what makes a one-on-one successful.

Some quick facts about James: 

  • # of direct reports: 10
  • Office or remote?: Remote
  • Frequency: Weekly
  • Length: 30 minutes
  • Go-to question: How do you work best? What can I do to help?


Why do you do one-on-ones?

I do one-on-ones to connect with my team – to understand what challenges they are facing, as well as challenge them directly to help them level up. It’s also a great time for them to also share feedback with me on how I am performing as a leader, and  helps me keep a regular pulse on all the work happening.

How often are your one-on-ones?

Weekly on Mondays.

How long are your one-on-ones?

30 minutes is scheduled, with 15 minutes on my calendar free in afterward in case they go over.

How do you prepare for your one-on-ones?

I share my talking points beforehand and the directs do the same. I also provide notes if I need to be reminded of specific details. I also challenge myself to review their work/conversations from the week to provide critical feedback. For example, if I notice that they got into a bit of a heated debate with a coworker, I’ll seek to give them some guidance on how to debate effectively and constructively.

Do you use an agenda?

I always aim to have at least three to five talking points beforehand, which typically always change based on what needs to be discussed.

Do both you and your employee add items to the agenda?

Yes. Our structure is typically the 10/10/10 model: 10 minutes for the direct to speak what is on their mind first, then 10 minutes for my items, then 10 minutes “for the future,” discussing what specific action items there might be from the conversation to make sure we follow up on.

"10 minutes for the direct to speak what is on their mind first, then 10 minutes for my items, then 10 minutes for the future." – @jamescarr of @zapier on structuring his one-on-one meetings Click To Tweet

What are your go-to one-on-one questions?

  • How do you work best? What can I do to help?
  • Any challenges in the present or the future that you believe we need to address?
  • You had a pretty outstanding week! What do you think helped contributed to your success this week? Is it something we could bake into the process?

For you, what’s the biggest challenge around your one-on-ones?

Trying to steer directs away from using our one-on-one as a status update.

What do you do to help your employees open up?

I try to build a good rapport with them. Sometimes this is sharing an interesting/funny story about something that happened while I was in their position or illustrating a specific challenge I had that I believe everyone faces. I also have several resources on hand to fall back on to get them to open up better. Radical Candor also has some specific advice to help “challenge directly” to address uncomfortable issues.

How do you know if you’ve had a successful one-on-one?

Whenever I feel like we have solved a really difficult problem. I also see the most successful one-on-ones as the ones where we really delved into a difficult conversation. For example, I had a really outstanding direct kind of have a drop off in performance. We really dug into it (and talked for practically an hour) and discovered the root of his difficulties were due to not feeling “safe” after releasing a change that led to a major outage. I was able to really address this and highlight that all of our most outstanding engineers have done work that led to a major outage, and the important lesson to focus on is what we learn from the issues and how to prevent them. It makes us much stronger engineers in the long run!

"I see the most successful one-on-ones as the ones where we really delved into a difficult conversation." – @jamescarr of @zapier Click To Tweet

Thanks to James for telling us about how he nails his remote one-on-one meetings! For more on remote meetings, check out our interview with Kara McNair, Engineering Manager at Buffer! And for more on difficult conversations, check out The ultimate guide to having difficult conversations with employees!

Use SoapBox to have amazing one-on-ones

What to do next

You made it to the end of this article! Here are some things you can do now:

  1. We have a massive (& free) collection of meeting agenda templates all designed to help you run more effective meetings.
  2. You should try Hypercontext to see how it can help you run a high performing org.
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