Engaging Your People

How Skip-Level Meetings Can Help You Build Strong Relationships with Your Team

by Jennifer Proctor, Senior Consultant at Wheelhouse Group

Several years ago, I was working as a director at an association. The story there was a common one: the employees were dedicated to the mission and to supporting members; however, they were resistant to change. In truth, I didn’t see how change would happen at all. From my seat as a middle manager, I ran into hard “no’s” when I asked for communication enhancements from IT; finance; and, even HR. Yet, the industry we represented was changing — fast! And, change needed to happen if we wanted to be successful long-term. A new CEO brought in a new vice president, and together they sought to modernize and improve the services of the organization. One of the first steps the duo took was to introduce skip-level meetings.

So, what’s a skip-level meeting?

In short, a skip-level meeting is where a team or an individual on a team meets with their supervisor’s supervisor. So, in my case, my fellow directors and I started meeting regularly with the CEO. At the same time, the vice president met with my team along with those of other directors. As a result, we all built stronger relationships with, and trust in, our leadership and one another. Leadership identified opportunities to provide us with coaching and mentorships to prepare for change and gained important information that improved their approach to leadership. Most importantly, we felt heard and respected.

How can you institute skip-level meetings?

Here’s how you can institute your own skip-level meetings to enhance your relationships with your team and prepare them for change.

  1. Assess your organization’s current state: Do you have a lot of work to do in a short time? Are you finding many members of your staff are resistant to change? If either or both is the case, skip-level meetings could help you move forward.
  2. Inform your people of the “Why” and “How” of skip-level meetings so no one is taken off-guard. Also, remind your team that these meetings aren’t about getting the scoop on their supervisor. Instead, they’re about encouraging open communication, connecting all staff to the overall goals of the organization, and finding opportunities for increased support of staff.
  3. Go to the meeting with a list of open-ended questions. Questions might include: How do you feel about your work? What are you proud of? What tool(s) would be helpful to you in your role?
  4. Share specific praise with the group so they know you recognize their hard work.
  5. Document the questions and concerns that arise in the meeting. Then, circle back with the employees who raised the issues to explain how it will be addressed. (This is a critical step. Without this follow up, any trust fostered during the meeting will quickly be lost.)
  6. After the skip-level meeting, connect with the direct supervisor(s) of the staff you met with to discuss what was learned. Share your positive observations and go through the questions and concerns that came up in the meeting to discuss responses and work out possible solutions to concerns.
  7. Sketch out and share a plan for regular skip-level meetings to show your commitment to communicating and providing your people with ongoing support. Consider how frequently to schedule the meetings: monthly, quarterly, annually? It will depend on what you learn from your meetings and your approach to next steps.

Skip-level meetings can be a strong engagement tool for your organization. As a leader you’ll get more visibility into the day-to-day workings of your team and your people will feel heard and appreciated on a new level. What’s more, everyone benefits: you’re likely to walk away with new insight that will help you and your team succeed. And, finally, stronger relationships can start to take hold throughout the organization.

Jennifer Proctor, Wheelhouse Group

Jennifer Proctor
Senior Communications Consultant, Wheelhouse Group
Jennifer specializes in building employee engagement and raising executive profiles and enjoys working for a variety of clients, including government agencies, financial services firms, and associations.