How to champion a world class leadership team meeting, even when past attempts have failed miserably.
Scrapped your weekly leadership team meetings yet?
There are three measures of a world class leadership meeting:
(1) Everyone shows up every week, driven by FOMO and a belief that this hour is the most valuable of their week
(2) There is a palpable sense of forward momentum and an unlocking of potential throughout the meeting
(3) The team leaves energized with a greater sense of clarity
Few leadership teams seize the full benefit of their weekly connection. More often they find any reason to skip it, or bail on the routine completely. The unspoken truth is that everyone finds the meeting a massive waste of time.
For many founders, these meetings take on a bipolar personality. One minute someone at the table seeks to validate their worth, boasting about their latest achievement. The next minute, you find yourself managing a barrage of passive aggressive attacks.
Your leadership team meeting — the group meeting you have with your direct reports — is the most expensive recurring meeting on your calendar. It’s also the biggest leverage point you’ve got. Without them, inefficiency permeates your business.
The defining question to ask yourself before creating or reshaping your leadership team meeting:
Do your direct reports collectively constitute a leadership team?
Most leadership teams in early stage companies aren’t actually teams. They are a collection of individuals who report to the founder and CEO. They don’t feel a shared responsibility for running the company. Instead, they co-lead their respective departments with the CEO.
If you don’t have a leadership team, you don’t need a leadership team meeting. Other types of meetings will be helpful, but skip this one until you are ready to build a true team.
Find the format that meets your needs
Let’s assume you do have a functioning leadership team. It’s a group where everyone brings unique content and has a voice in the running of the business.
Here are three different meeting formats to consider. Use these to customize a meeting that works for your circumstances. Try out all three so you know which one works best for your team.
Format #1: The weekly check-in
Best used: when the primary goal is to keep everyone aligned and you informed.
Meeting rhythm: go around the table with each person sharing the following four items in 5 minutes or less:
1) Changes to their top metrics (sales numbers, milestone completions, cancellations, etc.)
2) An update on critical news since the previous meeting. What should everyone else in the room know?
3) The top 2–3 priorities of their team for the upcoming week.
4) Requests for help (information, resources, etc.) from other teams.
Leave 15 minutes at the end to tackle the most pressing issue of the week.
Close out: by quickly reviewing everyone’s action items.
Format #2: The weekly tactical
Best used: for tackling a high volume of action items. This meeting is all about getting shit done. When teams rely on each other and are too busy to connect between meetings, this format rocks.
Meeting Rhythm: Select a scribe to capture notes that get projected in the room or shared live online. Create an agenda on the fly by capturing a list of topics. Everyone in the meeting participates in creating the list.
Example: “Discuss hiring — Mike”
Start at the top of the list. “Topic one, discuss hiring, Mike what do you need?”
Mike has four possible responses:
“I need everyone to know… [insert critical information that Mike cannot share in some other written format]”
“I need a quick answer (or approval) on…”
“I need time with Zak, Julie, and Sarika to discuss…”
“I have an issue/tension/problem with… [insert issue] that I would like to address by… [propose solution]”
Each of these should lead to an immediate and quick resolution of the issue or to a specific action item. The scribe captures the action and assigns an owner.
Example: “Mike to schedule a 30 minute meeting with Zak, Julie, and Sarika to discuss…”
The weekly tactical should move super fast and cover a long list of issues.
Close out: with each person sharing their version of: “Leaving this meeting I am most excited about / energized to / focused on…”
Format #3: The weekly problem solver
Best used: for tackling big topics needing time and collective brainpower.
Meeting Rhythm: Select one or two topics in advance of the meeting. Send everyone a clear problem statement.
Example: “Sales are 20% below target with 5 weeks left in the quarter. How can we work together to turn this around while we still have runway?”
Start the meeting by restating and taking ownership of the problem statement. Ask for advice. Dedicate a solid 10 to 15 minutes to brainstorming. Let the ideas flow — no idea is a bad idea. Then move to action, recording decisions when made.
The key to these meetings is staying on topic.
Close out: by quickly reviewing everyone’s action items.
Tips for staying on track
At this point you may be rolling your eyes thinking it can’t be that easy. You’re right. Even the experts religiously use hacks to keep meetings on track. Whatever meeting format you choose, here are some tips to keep your meetings running smoothly.
Tip #1: Know why you are meeting.
If you don’t know, the meeting is over. Your time is too valuable to sit around hoping something important drops onto the table.
Tip #2: Be clear on your role at the table.
How are you going to show up in these meetings? As a “teller”? A decision maker? A tie-breaker? An instigator? A disruptor? A facilitator? A negotiator? I guarantee you have a default style you use in these meetings. Choosing to flex is a sign of true leadership. Sometimes the team needs you to be a decision maker. Other times, allowing the rest of the team to debate is better.
Tip #3: Keep it super simple.
You are too busy to manage the creation of a new meeting agenda every week. So don’t. Depend on rituals, repetition and habit instead. Design a standing agenda and stick with it. When you reach the end of the agenda, the meeting is over.
Tip #4: Have an eagle eye for balance.
Agendas can become too rigid. Item. Item. Item. Done. Teams need the opportunity to bond too. Some social banter throughout the meeting is healthy. Without it, creativity and collective problem solving will suffer. If the balance swings too far the other way, important business gets missed. It’s your job to keep this balance healthy.
Tip #5: Meet to design the meeting.
Until you all agree on a set of meeting principles, everyone comes with their own ideas. Your first leadership team meeting has one agenda item: how will we run this meeting? Together, create a short list of principles that will give shape to the meetings. White board a list of questions. Is technology allowed? Under what circumstances can a meeting be missed? What type of content is a good fit? etc. Distill the answers into 5–6 principles. Keep it simple.
Tip #6: Stay focused on business fundamentals.
Meetings often become so intense that business fundamentals get lost. The company Resourceful Humans built a free app to keep the fundamentals present at all times. When someone notices that one of these five basics is no longer true, a red flag goes up.
• The customer is clearly the centre of our debate
• We are making things as simple as possible
• We are clear on the question before moving to solution mode
• Actions are understood and clearly communicated
• We are honouring our values in this meeting
Once you take off the training wheels, these meetings will become a crucial pillar of your business success. You’ll wonder how you functioned without them. Your team will love the clarity and energy that results, and so will you. Embrace a format that works for your circumstances.
Reach out with your success stories and share your unique customization. If you hit some bumps, contact me and I’ll share more tips to get things on track.
I blog to help Founder CEOs on their journey from kitchen table to 200 employees. Be the first to receive new articles by signing up for my newsletter here.