Leadership team meetings bring together senior leadership and management in a regularly scheduled meeting, for sharing information, ideas, issues, and perspectives.
Because they can create an atmosphere for game-changing innovation, good decisions, and great solutions, or else lead to rancor and hardened positions, it’s essential to conduct them skillfully and with purpose. They’re not meetings to take lightly, or to coast through, or to treat as stand-up meetings.
On the other hand, neither should they be high-stress or subject to high-pressure overpreparation.
You can make every single one of them interesting, engaging, challenging, and productive – something to look forward to – if you just know a few basic structures for doing so.
Done with awareness of the basic principles you’ll learn in this article, these meetings can bring a regular opportunity to build trust and create deeper relationships among team members.
In this article, you’ll discover
The lodestar purpose: Improving the company’s competitiveness
The lodestar, overarching purpose of a leadership team meeting is to improve the competitiveness of the company. Although that may be obvious, it’s sometimes easy to forget when meetings become mere vehicles to navigate competing personalities, emphases, and departments. Remembering this lodestar, and reminding the team of it when necessary, can take the heat out of disagreements. It can also add urgency and excitement to specific meetings that may need it.
Like the meetings themselves, the other items in this section all serve this one main purpose.
Bringing up challenges, issues, and problems
It’s no secret that when members of a leadership team bring up issues via text or email, what follows can be less than ideal. It’s too easy to misunderstand.
That’s one reason face to face meetings (or least via Zoom or other app, in other words live and interacting) are critical.
Leadership team meetings are perfect for bringing up challenges, issues, problems, and even conflicts face to face, in an open environment where they can be explained, understood, and discussed.
Leadership team meetings provide the crucial setting for making key decisions. Key players are present. All perspectives are available. The discussion is recorded in the minutes. Decisions are taken and recorded.
Finally, tasks or responsibilities are assigned, because these recurring meetings create the crucial structure for following up on decisions, holding team members accountable, and giving them the interdepartmental assistance they may need to follow through effectively.
Aligning and coordinating departments
Most business challenges and opportunities require alignment and coordination among more than one department. Having the leaders in a meeting all together, regularly, facilitates that alignment and coordination. So the goal of this meeting is to make decisions, bring up and solve problems, align cross-functionally, and gain insights into every department.
Now that we’ve seen a high-level view of the purpose of a leadership team meeting, let’s look at how these meetings are structured.
Structures and procedures for leadership team meetings are endlessly debated, in their details. Each team and situation may require various specific fulfillments of the four structures below.
Here’s a solid, and flexible, overall structure for leadership team meetings:
This serves as the intro to the meeting, catches everyone up with the state of the company, and keeps the overall purpose (better competitiveness for the company) in the top of everyone’s mind, so that the meeting is focused.
This allows departmental leaders to report on the state of their departments within the enterprise. Everyone remains informed of major developments and goals throughout the company. Encourages broad views, alignment, and coordination.
This part of the meeting provides an open forum for participants to bring up issues, challenges, problems, and even conflicts. The CEO presides, facilitates resolutions to these, and makes the call on them when appropriate, given the dynamics of the company and the team.
Decisions that are taken should result directly in generating specific action items. These should be assigned to specific individuals, so that responsibility, accountability, and credit are given. After the meeting, the minutes, especially the action items, should be distributed rapidly and clearly. In this way, meetings continue to “live” long after the official meeting is over, guiding daily actions and progress until the next meeting.
If you want a more specific, granular breakdown, here’s a thorough sketch. It can be mapped onto the 4-beat structure above.
Now that you’ve seen how to structure team leadership meetings, let’s address some additional issues – which, if not planned for, can derail a meeting.
It’s one thing to organize agenda items before a meeting.
It’s quite another to manage a live discussion among several talented individuals, with assertive, creative, expansive minds – and keep the discussion on track.
If any discussion is not actively managed, and kept on track, it will meander. Or even go off the rails.
So what do you discuss in a leadership team meeting? The structures listed above provided general categories. But how do you manage a discussion in real time?
A good rule of thumb for whether to allow and pursue a discussion, is this: Whatever issue is allowed to into the discussion should be current, important, and on the agenda.
Is it current?
Team leadership meetings are, generally speaking, designed for discussing issues related to the current week. The discussions should remain focused, as much as possible, on what’s going on now, and how to move forward now. Setting this expectation will help participants stay focused, and to avoid rehashing, reminiscing, or venturing into the distant future.
Is it important?
Important here is defined as “important to the main purpose of leadership team meetings.” The purpose of leadership team meetings is, as mentioned above, to improve the company’s competitiveness.
Is it on the agenda?
This is less iron-clad than the first two criteria of “current” and “important.” After all, not every important, current issue or win that’s mentioned in the course of a meeting is going to be on the agenda. But “Is it on the agenda?” should be given considerable weight, because it keeps meetings focused, and reassures team members that their time is respected, and that they can count on being able to adequately prepare for any discussion that impacts them or their departments.
When leadership meetings are regular and routine, but not enlivened with purpose, they can become hopelessly “checked-out” events for most of the participants.
The agenda looks similar, from week to week. The issues, they may feel, are already known on background, or through informal discussions with individuals previous to the official meeting. Individual team members can easily be so focused on their own challenges, opportunities, and wins that they mark time through any part of the meeting which doesn’t directly concern them. And less-than charismatic presentations by any presenter at any stage along the agenda, can cause people to tune out.
Put all these together with pressing tasks for after the meeting, and it’s not surprising when most or all participants just hope that the meeting ends as rapidly as possible – and do their part, by keeping silent, or by agreement without real thought, to help that happen.
How, then, do you facilitate a leadership meeting to make sure it accomplishes what it should?
Set a compelling goal for the meeting
The most important, foundational part of any successful meeting is a clear goal for that specific meeting.
It can’t be a generalized goal. (“To increase revenues.”) That’s not compelling enough.
The goal must involve each participant personally. It must speak of “each department,” or “each leader,” and of “objective” or “demonstrable results.”
The goal must be stated in terms of the participants’ actions. Everyone is the protagonist of their own life. They want help in reaching goals. They want support. But they want to be the ones reaching the goals. So, goals stated in terms of what they will do are much more compelling.
Tying the goal to each participant and each department necessarily gets individuals’ attention. They’re competitive. They’re ambitious. They’re motivated by reaching goals. They want to know how to win for themselves and their departments. They want to be seen as contributing.
The goal must also be specific to that meeting, at that point in time.
For example, “The goal of this meeting is help you make sure your departments are demonstrably ready for the successful launch of the new website next week.”)
When the CEO, or other facilitator of a meeting, listens actively, and intently, it sets the tone for the meeting.
People who feel listened to express themselves with more purpose, care, intent, and urgency. People who observe a CEO actively listening are more likely to follow suit and listen actively as well.
Once a majority of participants are actively listening, and speaking with focus and intent, a meeting improves dramatically because of that virtuous cycle.
Be open, fair, and make nothing personal
Meetings in which people know that the focus is on solving problems, and not on blame, are meetings in which creativity, openness, and problem-solving can flourish. Setting these values explicitly can be helpful. Observing them at all times implicitly is necessary. If any group sees an individual hammered personally for something unfairly, everyone’s first instinct is to be wary, to keep one’s head down, to be cautious.
On the other hand, when individuals are listened to fairly, and held accountable fairly, the team responds with more creativity, free thought, openness, and problem-solving ideas.
It’s important to remember that great ideas are like great photos – you have to come up with a lot of mediocre or awful ones to get one that’s great. And the great one will likely require some touch up to get it to that level.
Hold people accountable
Without making failures personal, hold your team members accountable with action items and follow-up, week by week.
Leaders thrive on accountability for themselves. (So do most individuals, but especially members of a leadership team.)
Helping to lead a company without being held accountable is like playing golf without keeping score. It takes away most of the enjoyment. And that’s a good analogy, because a golf score is objective. It’s not personal. No one likes to be personally criticized for their golf game. But everyone loves, as a matter of course, for their score to judge them, to tell them how well they’re playing.
It’s the same with holding team members accountable in meetings. It’s counterproductive to make it personal. But show a team objectively how well or poorly they’re doing, and they feel deeply motivated to meet and exceed goals.
In this article, you’ve found a resource for staying grounded in the basic fundamentals of leadership team meetings. These structures are well-established, and ensure that everything that needs to be included is included.
These structures are also flexible enough to allow for a wide variety of needs.
Not least important, the reminders about values for general active management of leadership team meetings will help to keep the discussions on track and the interactions genuine and productive.
Professional and personal development shouldn’t stop when you hit the management ranks.
A private portion of a board meeting to handle sensitive and confidential business.