Call me an egomaniac but I have never attended a well-run executive leadership team meeting that I didn’t facilitate. And the reason is not because I am such a brilliant facilitator. No, the reason is because most CEOs and executive leadership teams are not even marginally skilled at the basics of facilitating a productive, worth-the-time and (dare I say it) fun meeting.
Not too long ago I attended a weekly executive leadership team meeting for a multi-billion-dollar organization. The meeting was scheduled for two hours—not because the agenda required two hours but because the weekly meeting is a standing two-hour meeting. The agenda was created mostly by the CEO (or maybe the CEO’s admin), though other team members were invited to add agenda items as well. For this particular meeting, there were three agenda items. None had a designated amount of time, so it was anyone’s guess about how long each item would take.
The first was an overview of the new budgeting process. The CFO read through maybe 15 slides and added “color” to the dense content. It took 45 minutes and by the end of the presentation a few members of the team had surreptitiously pulled out their tablets and started working on other priorities.
The second item on the agenda also involved a team member presenting a PowerPoint deck and ended with a recommendation. It wasn’t clear if the team was to make a decision on the recommendation or if the intent was to just share information. In the end no decision was made and no action taken. Same with the last item on the agenda, which had to be cut short because the other two agenda items used up most of the two hours. By the end of the meeting almost every team member was busily working on a phone or tablet.
The purpose of an executive leadership team is to make decisions and to assure organization alignment and execution. Unfortunately, most executive leadership team meetings have poorly structured agendas, insufficient time management, rampant conflict avoidance, inadequate facilitation and unresolved but unspoken tensions between members. As a result, decisions don’t get made, strategy execution is weak, and organizations and executive leadership teams don’t come close to realizing their goals and aspirations. And, not unimportantly, executive leadership team members become cynical and discouraged.
High-performing executive leadership teams have great meetings that members look forward to attending and leave feeling energized by. This does not happen by accident. Designing and facilitating great meetings is a professional skill. Here are four critical ingredients necessary for productive executive leadership team meetings:
- The Right Agenda: Executive leadership teams exist to make decisions. If your agenda is filled with presentations and information sharing, your team is not helping to resolve issues and make decisions that only they can make.
- Courage: Every team member is responsible for the effectiveness of the meeting. Speak up if you think the meeting is going off track. Open your mental filters and risk saying things you would typically hold back for fear of looking stupid or offending a team member. Hold yourself and others to the scheduled time for each agenda item. These behaviors are risky and require courage, but without them the meeting will probably be boring and less productive.
- Enterprise view: As a member of the executive leadership team you are not just the leader of your function. You are one of the leaders of the enterprise. This requires you to look at issues through a lens of “what’s best for the business” vs. what is best for the function you lead.
- Trust: On great teams, team members look out for each other. This doesn’t mean not holding each other accountable. What it means is acting in ways that support rather than undermine your colleagues. Over time, this behavior more than any other will build trust on your team and make your conversations and decision making more authentic and efficient.
If your executive leadership team meetings are more about presenting than making decisions and fail the “look forward to and energized by” test, The Bailey Group can help. Our trained advisors and consultants have the tools and experience your executive team needs to start making decisions, resolving conflicts and driving strategy execution. Email me and let’s talk about how to reverse the cynicism and discouragement caused by unproductive meetings.