Talking to your Subordinate’s Subordinates is tight-rope walking?

How often do you talk to your subordinate’s subordinates? Or should you avoid talking to them completely? The reason I bring this up is because it is a critical issue for a manager. If you mess this up, you risk losing the trust of your subordinates. At the same time, if you stay aloof and only talk to your direct reports and avoid interacting with their direct reports, you run the risk of being isolated from your larger team and also the larger team may feel that you are unapproachable. So any feedback or comment that they may have, they may not share it with you, potentially putting your operation at risk. Another risk that you run is that, any ideas or strategies or anything you communicate to your direct reports may not be reaching the larger team in exactly the way you intended. On the flip side, if you overdo the communication to your subordinates’s subordinates, your direct reports may feel that you’re bypassing them. How do we handle this? I am not sure if any book has covered this topic. Please post a pointer in the comments if you know any good book. In my experience, I have seen a boss of mine use a particular strategy that I like and I have come to adopt it myself as well. [He is one of the best bosses I have worked for and this is not the only technique I have copied from him. ] He would generally communicate only with his direct reports. But on a monthly/quarterly basis when he holds key meetings, he would ask us to invite some of our key subordinates and include them as well. In my view it created an excellent environment for my subordinates to interact with my boss. It turned out to be a great motivational thing for them. Even if I were an insecure manager, this approach created a controlled set of interactions between me and my subordinates. Of course, he would hold all hands meetings at least once or twice a year and address everyone. I have also seen some people hold one-on-one meetings with everyone in the team. However, that is not scalable when you have a large team. Is this something that you have thought about? What have you all done? Have you come across any different techniques?


  1. Quote
    Anonymous said July 6, 2007, 7:25 am:

    Very interesting one Sukumar.
    I have seen/ experienced both extremes. One of my boss’s boss never spoke with me for 2 years when I was reporting indirectly to her. At another instance, one of my companies SDC COO used be with us even mess with our code. Literally making all the managers feel insecure all the time.
    The solution is right in this blog..a balanced one.. Sometimes, it will be the boss’s boss who may ultimately decide on the promotion nominations. It will be good if he has some interaction with the indirect reportees which might help him associate the face before he rejects/ nominates someone.

  2. Quote
    Anonymous said July 6, 2007, 1:13 pm:

    Thanks Vamsi. Good point on the promotions angle. I hadn’t thought of that. – Sukumar

  3. Quote
    Anonymous said July 6, 2007, 11:16 pm:

    Interesting topic Sukumar. Here is my take on this topic.

    If someone in the team (wherever they are in the hierarchy) does something exceptional , take the opportunity to praise them face-to-face. Go to their room, chat with them for a few minutes, explain how much of an impact they have made on the business etc. Extend the conversation a bit and perhaps ask them how they are doing. Such informal conversations are worth way more than a templatized email thanking them.

    Explain to your immediate subordinates that this is your style. Make them feel comfortable about your style of management. Also, make sure that you never bypass your subordinate while granting their subordinate any official reward. Always, make sure that these are handled by your subordinate.

    Also, do not forget to praise them in a public forum, if their work really deserves it. DO NOT DILUTE the reward. My general principle is – take every opportunity to praise someone in public and criticize in private.

    Like you have mentioned, round-table once every quarter (with the players rotating) with a small set of the team members is always useful. If you have any specific agenda for such meetings, make sure to send it out early, and choose the players (if you have the option) carefully – the ones who would contribute effectively. Purpose of such meetings is to have candid discussions that will foster an environment of openness. Use the all-hands to discuss your team strategy, progress at a product level and grant awards.

    Never deny a request for a 1:1 from any member in the team. You learn more from such discussions about the morale of the team, what motivates the team, what is lacking, what is good etc. Understand that each person interacting with you could be an agent of change, motivation for their team etc. Leverage the opportunity to exploit this. IMO, there is no harm in using such discussions to get a general idea about the management chain, a quick feedback on the person’s immediate manager etc. Of course, use such feedback judiciously.


  4. Quote
    Anonymous said July 7, 2007, 2:46 am:

    That was quite insightful. One very good technique I have seen being employed (also, by a BITSian 77 batch) was to have a weekly or fortnightly meeting with his direct report and their immediate subordinates. This was apart from a meeting with his directs only – also once a week. This allowed him to get a more direct insight into what was happening, while allowing his direct reports the operational freedom required.

    Once a quarter he would have a town hall meeting followed by high tea where he would interact with junta in a more informal setting. Another interesting aspect of his interactions with people below the line used to be having lunch with them in the canteen. He used to invite himself to lunch with 4 or 5 employees during lunch. In spite of his stately bearing and formidable looks, he was still one of the most popular bosses we had.

  5. Quote
    Anonymous said July 7, 2007, 9:23 am:

    Thanks Raghu. The lunch technique is interesting. Someone said eloquently “never have your lunch alone”. Definitely interacting in informal settings helps with the approachability factor.

  6. Quote
    Anonymous said July 7, 2007, 9:28 am:

    Thanks Ganesh. I liked your advice on the rewards/exceptional performance. Praising in public and meeting with the person face to face to appreciate instead of a generic email is definitely worth adopting.

    On the 1:1 meeting front, i agree with your advice. But i have a question. if you have a large team and everyone starts setting up 1:1s with you, would it be scaleable?

  7. Quote
    Anonymous said July 7, 2007, 12:56 pm:


    Regarding 1:1 scaling, I do agree that it will become problematic if everyone wants one. In my experience, I have seen that people in general understand the time constraints associated with being at a certain level in the organization and schedule it only if absolutely necessary. You can impose the guideline that the person looking for a 1:1 must come with a list of issues/questions they would like to discuss/answered. This will serve two purposes –

    1. Burden is on the person to make sure that 1:1 addresses specific concerns and is not for general chit-chat. This has the benefit of weeding out folks looking for 1:1 just to get some face time.

    2. Facilitate the 30 minute time boundary set for the 1:1.


  8. Quote
    Anonymous said July 7, 2007, 11:49 pm:

    Thanks Ganesh. Good strategies for managing 1:1 meeting requests. I think this will work effectively. -Sukumar

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