Skip-Level Meetings and Table Setting: prep for strategic planning, work/life boundaries, and future of hybrid/remote work

Each summer, I do a strategic planning session with the two departments in my division, Digital Partnerships & Strategies and Library Technology Services. For this coming year, we plan to focus our discussions on two areas:

  • Digital Partnerships & Strategies: work/life: establishing and communicating norms/boundaries/expectations
  • Library Technology Services: remote/hybrid work (continual improvement for best practices)

The format for the sessions includes brief pre-readings to set the stage.  I would love to hear from others on these topics!

Some of the preparation has already led to findings/actions:

  • Implementing skip-level meetings
  • Table setting: testing explaining next stage work as “table setting” for both pre-planning for years to come, and using as a frame to explain the need to write the unwritten (state the assumptions) on expectations/norms, like writing an etiquette guide

Skip-level Meetings

Skip-level meetings are explained in many ways, and I agree and disagree with different versions. I appreciate this explanation: “Generally, the skip-level meeting does not pinpoint specific issues or solve problems; it is a chance to listen and share in a discussion, after which the manager evaluates the employees’ feedback.” Skip-level meetings provide a frame for establishing a routine that encourages more conversations, reinforces the importance of communication, and establishes that meeting outside of the strict hierarchy is normal.


I will be testing explaining the next stage work process and establishing norms as “table setting”. The work to establish norms is super important, and relates to how we can best do remote/hybrid work, including how we establish and communicate boundaries and expectations to reduce stress/friction in support of work/life balance. I’ve seen lots of explanations of “setting the table” for project management and project portfolio management, and I’m interested in using the same metaphor/frame to explain the early pre-planning work as well as for establishing norms for both departments. Right now, both departments have priorities defined for at least through the end of 2021. Last year, I collaborated with the Chair of LTS for facilitated discussions with all chairs/directors where we asked them for 3 things in relation to Library Technology Services:

  1. Any problems/issues, to get handled immediately
  2. Goals
  3. Dreams

From these, we both identified and corrected issues, and we gathered data which helped to establish the priorities for 2020 and 2021, and we learned the larger dream of simply collaborating better with LTS. The dream question was intentionally open, as a way to look to the future with a larger, shared vision. With so many things always in flux and everyone under so much pressure, it’s difficult to think about dreams like this. Now, I’m hoping to ask for similar things in a different way using table-setting. I’ll be asking folks what we need to set the table for based on what they see in 2022 and beyond. Are we looking at all BBQ meals, fine dining, fine dining with BBQ, food for 10s or 100s, what should we expect to see? What will they be doing for the table setting and what’s expected of us, who all is involved? I like this framing because it ask us to make explicit roles, and how we see our future work. This sort of framing is necessary so that we can ask and make progress on explicitly stating assumptions and expectations, which otherwise can be unwritten and unacknowledged, and then cause problems for work deliverables and for the happiness/success of the work process.

I have a lot more to share on all of this, and I’m still in process, reading, thinking, and discussing. I look forward to more, especially as we get closer to the sessions this summer!