Engaging With Our Teams Through Skip-Level Meetings

One of the benefits of conducting skip-level meetings is to build trust within teams. Skip levels also help the manager understand how folks on the team are really feeling about the work, the culture, and the team around them. What could be better? What needs to be resolved? And for the employee - it’s an opportunity for them to get aligned and centered around the vision — and ask valuable questions that help them with their own work.

Skip-levels are also used to either maintain or improve overall communication and build more effective relationships with employees. This can be accomplished through less-structured “getting to know you” conversations which imparts a sense of care for the individual’s morale and welfare.

Given the ongoing global pandemic, remote work and the stresses that come with navigating these challenges, skip-levels can simply be useful for connecting with our colleagues, and for helping our colleagues to feel connected.

For the purposes of this document, “manager” refers to the person conducting the skip-level meeting and “individual” refers to the staff member meeting with the manager.

Manager expectations:

  1. Skip-level meetings should be conducted at least once annually. Conducting skip-levels on a more frequent basis is at the manager’s discretion.
  2. Managers conducting skip-levels should share their intent with their direct reports for the skip level meetings. Get buy in. A sample communication to prepare your direct report managers that skip level meetings will be occurring can be:
    Dear <manager> - <periodically>, I plan to set aside 30 min — 1 hour to chat with each of your direct reports. The agenda would include questions like, “Could I be doing a better job outlining the vision and direction for where we’re headed?” and “When have you felt most proud about being a part of the unit this past year?” And they will have a chance to ask me questions, too. Hopefully, it’ll be an opportunity to create greater alignment about our collective vision and provide a chance for them to weigh in on higher level leadership topics that affect the organization. Please let me know if you have questions or concerns.
  3. Skip-levels meeting are an opportunity for the individual to share what’s on their mind. Aim for an 80/20 listen-to-talk ratio. Listen intently and let the individual drive the conversation to the key topics they want to discuss with you.
  4. Follow-up actions - consider any themes that emerge from your skip level meetings, check in with your direct reports to share and discuss the themes (remember confidentiality) and any subsequent next steps.

Template for setting up skip-level meetings:

Dear <skip-level employee>,

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what I can do to engage more with the people who drive this operation since I do not have an opportunity to regularly visit because of the remote work during Covid. So my plan is to hold informal skip-level meetings as a helpful way for me to learn more about our staff and our work and challenges. I think that in the process it will help me become a better leader as well.

Here’s my thought on how it would work - periodically, I’d set aside between 30 min — 1 hour to chat with you. The agenda would include topics like, “Could I be doing a better job outlining the vision and direction for where we’re headed?” and “When have you felt most proud about being a part of the company this past year?” We can determine ongoing agenda items during our first meeting – I have some ideas and I’d love to get your input as well — so you’ll definitely have a chance to ask me anything that’s on your mind. We can also decide how frequently to get together. For our initial meeting here are some topics to kick us off (confidentiality will be honored):

  • What projects or initiatives at work have you most enjoyed working on (now or in the past)?
  • Are you happy in your role?
  • What is the biggest challenge you facing your role in the organization?
  • If there was one thing that you could “fix” on the team, or at Yale in general, what would it be?
  • How can I be of assistance to you/your team?