As much as we appreciate established hierarchies in businesses, occasionally breaking the rules can stir things up. It’s something you’ll enjoy and will benefit your organization. And skip-level meetings are the very definition of that.
Table of content:
- What is a skip-level meeting?
- What is NOT a skip-level meeting?
- What is the purpose of skip-level meetings?
- How often should skip-level meetings be held?
- How to write skip-level meeting invitation emails to managers and their direct reports
- Why do you need to prepare for a skip-level meeting?
- What are the best practices to run a skip-level meeting?
- What questions should you ask in skip-level meetings?
- What is SKS process to write skip-level meeting questions?
- How to create a skip-level meeting agenda
- Skip-level meeting agenda template
What is a skip-level meeting?
A skip-level meeting is a meeting where you skip hierarchical levels to meet with employees other than those you manage directly.
They might be employees who are the direct reports of people you manage, which is the case in most small- or mid-sized organizations. Or there may be several layers separating between you and the person you need to meet, and this exists in large organizations.
This is not how it goes in normal meetings, where managers meet with people they directly manage. However, if you are the manager of managers (VP, executive, or upper-level manager) and want to meet with the direct reports of people under your management, you'd arrange a skip level meeting.
You're excluding the middle management level from participating.
What is NOT a skip-level meeting?
To hold a successful skip level meeting, you need to know what's NOT a skip level meeting:
Skip-level meetings are not a way to check in on the performance of a manager by going behind their back. In fact, it's best if you inform the manager that you need to schedule skip level meetings with his/her direct reports and give the manager a chance to explain to his/her direct reports how the meeting will go.
Skip-level meetings are not a means to perform any tasks that a team's direct manager is responsible for, such as setting priorities for the team or evaluating the performance of direct reports.
So, what's a skip level meeting for? Read on to find the answer.
What is the purpose of skip-level meetings?
The purpose of skip level meetings is to be more strategic and accountable when making decisions in your organization. They provide a bird’s eye view of the organization. With questions focusing on feedback and concerns in the company, skip-level meetings will help you do the following:
- Bonding with people who don’t directly report to you and building trust
- Gaining valuable insight into your team/teams and organization
- Getting feedback about your management style
- Giving employees a chance to voice how they feel about different things going on in the organization and inviting a diversity of perspectives
- Highlighting any obstacles you weren’t aware of
- Increasing transparency across the organization
- Improving your communication structure
- Enhancing the management process
- Creating goals relevant to your team/teams
- Leveraging your privileges to the benefit of the employees
How often should skip-level meetings be held?
Skip-level meetings should be held on a quarterly basis, and you should avoid holding skip level meetings in response to another event, as this may make employees feel that something is wrong.
Other than holding them on a quarterly basis, it's best if you hold them with everyone on the team. And here’s why. First, this will help you gain the broadest perspective possible. Second, selecting certain people to meet with (even if it’s unintentional) will stir sentiments of unfairness or that you have a specific meeting agenda, which is the opposite of what you’re trying to do here, building trust.
If you find the above logistically impossible, you may consider holding ad-hoc skip level meetings biyearly or once a year. You may also consider conducting the meeting in groups of no more than 10–15, instead of one-on-one meetings.
Remember that one size doesn't fit all. As you decide on how often you should hold skip level meetings and if they should be one-on-one meetings or meetings in groups, check how much time you can dedicate to hold skip level meetings and if you can commit to that. Learn what best fits the team and adjust the frequency of skip level meetings accordingly.
💡 Pro Tip. Using an all-in-one meeting management software, like adam.ai, can help you manage skip level meetings with ease. After you're settled on an agenda, apply it and customize it to your needs. Or, ask Adam the AI meeting assistant to suggest an agenda for you and help you with writing and enhancing the content.
Ideally, you should have skip level meetings with all the employees under your management. adam.ai can help you reduce wasted time and set an agile process.
Moreover, adam.ai can help (1) set a clear direction for every meeting with a shared agenda to keep the discussion on track, (2) drive alignment by pre-uploading files from your hard drive or cloud for everyone to access beforehand, and (3) add attendees and send meeting invitations in sync with your Office 365 or Google Calendar.
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How to write a skip-level meeting invitation email to managers and their direct reports
To write a skip level meeting invitation email, you need to address both the managers and their direct reports and let them know about your intention to hold skip level meetings, to start the meetings on an excellent note. Transparency is key in meetings such as ad-hoc skip level meetings that are designed to build trust and enhance businesses.
Managers may feel undermined if they think the only reason you decided to hold skip level meetings is to check up on their performance. When you inform managers about skip level meetings beforehand, you can explain that the purpose of skip level meetings is your genuine interest in enhancing your leadership skills and the work process and you don’t have any hidden agendas.
And for most direct reports, being called for a skip level meeting without prior notice is concerning. You're their boss' boss after all, and they may wonder if they did something wrong or are in trouble. So, you need to let them know what to expect exactly.
You can send emails to inform managers and invite direct reports to skip-level meetings. Here are several suggestions on what to include in your email.
When drafting a skip-level meeting email invitation to managers, it's recommended you do the following:
- Highlight the purpose of skip level meetings and how they benefit the organization (you can use some of the bullet points we’ve mentioned earlier in the article)
- Let them know about the frequency of the meetings and how long they’d take
- Give them an overview of the meeting agenda
- Let them know the date on which you’ll start holding the meetings
- Ensure them that you’ll communicate any feedback you get about them
- Ask for their opinion about the whole thing to make them feel involved
When drafting a skip-level meeting email invitation to direct reports, it's recommended you do the following:
- Highlight the purpose of skip level meetings and how they benefit the organization
- Let them know about the frequency of the meetings and how long they’d take and if they’ll be one-on-one meetings or group meetings
- Give them an overview of the meeting agenda
- Ask them to come prepared
- Let them know the date on which you’ll start holding the meetings
- Ask if the meeting dates are suitable
💡 Pro Tip. After sending out the emails, ask the managers to have a quick meeting with their direct reports to set the right vibes in place. Direct reports need to know that their managers know about the skip level meetings you want to hold and that they have their blessings to be as open and detailed with you. Managers need to be clear with their direct reports about the fact that skip level meetings are typically a healthy intervention that everybody will learn from.
✔️ If you're holding your skip level meetings on adam.ai, add the direct manager as a viewer in the meeting, so that they have an idea about the meeting agenda and findings without direct intervention.
Why do you need to prepare for a skip-level meeting?
As a high-level manager, you may have conducted thousands of meetings and you may think that skip level meetings will be one of the easiest. But if you're just starting out with skip level meetings, you may need to reconsider this.
To make the best use of your invaluable time, we recommend you prepare your skip level meetings as they can make all the difference in how you lead. Your time invested in doing them right will pay off not only with each person but with how your organization functions as well.
What are the best practices to run a skip-level meeting?
Some of the best practices to prepare for a skip-level meeting include the following.
Keep the managers in the loop
As mentioned before, when deciding to schedule skip-level meetings, it's essential to keep the managers in the loop and let them know about the meeting, preferably a week before.
Catching them off guard might bring about negative thoughts in terms of job security and feeling undermined, and this may make them defensive. When informing them about the meeting, make sure to state the purpose of the meeting. Communicate clearly that negative feedback, if any, should be seen as constructive criticism.
Review the status updates before the meeting
It's best if you check what each employee is working on at the moment, instead of going through this in the meeting. Reviewing the status updates will allow you to ask more focused questions on ongoing projects.
Skip-level meetings should not be about getting caught up with the latest project. You need to spend your valuable time asking questions that matter. Moreover, the employee will appreciate the fact that you're up to date with everything going on.
Share the agenda beforehand and ask for the attendees' input
Sharing the agenda with the employee beforehand will not only help them prepare for the skip-level meeting but can also help them co-create the agenda with you. They may add meaningful questions that can push the conversation forward or highlight certain concerns that you may not be aware of.
Although you may dedicate time at the end of the meeting to hear anything on the employees' minds, allowing them to add items to the agenda before the meeting will reduce the meeting time and make the skip-level meeting conversation more focused.
💡Pro Tip. Use an all-in-one meeting software, like adam.ai, to create an agile meeting flow, where attendees can easily suggest agenda items. After you schedule the meeting using adam.ai, the attendee will have access to your meeting agenda and is allowed to add timed agenda items.
Check out this screenshot from adam.ai's meet place. Under "Suggested," you'll find the attendee suggesting an agenda item for the meeting owner to consider.
Screenshot from adam.ai: collaborating on meeting agenda
Clearly state the objective of the skip-level meeting
It's important to know that some employees will come to this meeting with an agenda, meaning that they may think this meeting is to discuss the performance of their team leader. Stating the purpose of the meeting at the beginning can help set the right tone for the skip-level meeting conversation.
➕ Extra bonus. Try sending out a thank you email after the meeting is finished; it has a positive effect on attendees and enhances meeting productivity.
What questions should you ask in skip level meetings?
Questions you should ask in skip-level meetings can be divided into three categories: (1) building connection/rapport, (2) information/feedback gathering on the manager, and (3) information/feedback gathering on the organization.
Dividing the questions into categories can prove effective in organizing your thoughts.
We've gathered great lists of questions from various sources in this article, so you can have them all in one place. Read on to know what questions can help spark the conversation during a skip-level meeting.
Here are the questions the management center suggested for each category.
|Information/feedback gathering on manager||
|Information/feedback gathering on organization||
Source: Management Center
- What works well in the department right now? (i.e., systems, processes, technology, feedback, etc.)
- What needs improvement and/or what obstacles are preventing them from being successful? (i.e., technology, top level support, more feedback, etc.)
- What is one thing, as a department, we need to START doing right away to be more successful?
- What is one thing, as a department, we need to STOP doing right away to be more successful?
- What is one thing, as a department, we need to make sure we CONTINUE to do in order to be successful?
- Alternatively, you can ask what they need MORE/LESS of from their manager and yourself in order for them to be successful as a department and in their roles.
Priority Matrix has a list of different questions that are definitely useful:
- How do you feel about work lately?
- What have you accomplished lately that you’re most proud of? What about since you’ve been with the company?
- How do you measure success in your role?
- What’s blocking you from being more successful than you already are?
- What tool would be most helpful for you in your current role?
- What would you do differently if you were in the role of your team lead? Why?
- What are your professional goals during the next year here? The next 3 years?
- What do you think the current goals of the company are?
- How do you feel your role contributes to those goals?
- What ideas do you have for innovation in your team? In the company?
You can choose suitable questions from the above lists and personalize them to kick-off outstanding skip-level meetings that will benefit the organization.
What is SKS process to write skip-level meeting questions?
The SKS process is a framework of Stop/Keep-doing/Start that is used to collect or categorize feedback. If you're short on time and find that the process of choosing questions is overwhelming, you can opt for the SKS process. The SKS questions are as follows:
- What should I STOP doing?
- What should I KEEP doing?
- What should I START doing?
You can follow a basic template for questions:
- What should we stop doing as a team/department/organization?
- What should we keep doing as a team/department/organization?
- What should we start doing as a team/department/organization?
- If you were in my place, what would you differently do about _____?
Remember to follow each question with a "why," to gain a deeper insight.
How to craft a skip-level meeting agenda
To craft a skip-level meeting agenda, you need to be clear on what outcomes you are targeting in this meeting, such as:
- Building connections and enhancing communication with people you least communicate with
- Gathering feedback on the organization, the managers, and the work process
- Detecting obstacles causing significant delays to the work
- Figuring out what help you can offer: new tools, career development plan, or enhancing the work process in any way
Skip-level meetings are about being in a listening mode and learning from a unique perspective. So, you need to ask the right questions to cover the essential points.
Skip-level meeting agenda template
Our skip-level meeting agenda template covers the above points and more; it includes plenty of questions that can help inspire you and tips to guide you through the meeting.
Ready to kick off the best skip-level meetings? Download the template in one step by filling in the below.
More meeting agenda templates
This agenda is one of many more free agenda templates, created with every team's needs in mind. Feel free to download the ones that you use the most, customize them to fit your team, and make the most out of every meeting.
- Team meeting agenda template
- Board team meeting agenda template
- Quarterly planning meeting agenda template
- Standup meeting agenda template
- Status meeting agenda template
- First meeting with new team agenda template
- Brainstorming meeting agenda template
- Retrospective meeting agenda template
- Kick off meeting agenda template
- Sales team meeting agenda template
Because of the utmost importance of a meeting agenda, organizations and teams of all sizes resort to meeting agenda software, which is usually part of an all-in-one meeting management software, to facilitate the entire process and automate many parts of it.
💡 Pro Tip. Use the templates in adam.ai for maximum benefit. You can add notes and comments while discussing the agenda; add sub-agenda items and attach files; edit, delete, and re-order agenda items inside the meeting room; set a timer for each agenda item; and much more.
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To sum up, this article has tackled the definition of skip-level meetings and the best practices, questions to ask in the meeting, and what to include in a skip-level meeting agenda. The article includes an inclusive skip level meeting agenda that is free and editable. You can customize it to fit your organization's needs.