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Building Strong Relationships With Your Team

It All Begins and Ends with Relationships

One of the great joys of my career, is the opportunity to learn from other seasoned professionals. My friend and colleague Jennifer Proctor recently told me of a practice she observed as a young professional that made a positive, lasting impression.

The story she told me was a common one: dedicated employees, carrying out the organization’s mission and supporting stakeholders. But they were resistant to change. In truth, she didn’t see how change would happen at all. Yet, the industry they served was changing — fast. A new leader sought to modernize and improve the services of the organization. One of the first steps he took was to introduce skip-level meetings.

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. In this case, Jennifer started meeting regularly with the CEO. At the same time, the vice president met with her team along with those of other directors. As a result, they all built stronger relationships with, and trust in, the new leadership and one another. Leadership identified opportunities to provide coaching and mentorships to prepare for change and essential information that improved their approach to leadership. Most importantly, employees 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, Senior Consultant At Wheelhouse Group, contributed to this article.

Loretta Cooper is a Senior Consultant at Wheelhouse Group. She is an ICF Certified Executive and Team Coach (PCC) and an accomplished consulting professional with more than 12 years of private and public sector experience. Loretta comes to consulting after nearly two decades in network broadcasting. As an award-winning, Washington-based, National Affairs Correspondent for ABC News, Loretta (aka Lauren Rogers) had the opportunity to observe leaders in every sphere of influence – political, government, corporate, activist – and learn from their strategy successes and failures. She is married, the mother to two fabulous young men (just ask!), and enjoys long walks, jet skis, good books, and knitting.

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