BIV Boardroom Strategy: Fix your meetings. Now.

[read time: 4 mins]

Let me paint the scene: you have a group of executives and senior managers, all well-paid, spending most of their weeks in meetings pretending to be paying attention to mind-numbing updates being read from the document they have sitting in front of them while doing the “Blackberry/iPhone Prayer”: holding their smartphone under the table, replying to email, texting, or furiously working to beat their high score on Angry Birds.

One of the most common complaints I hear from CEOs, Executives, and Senior Managers is that they spend most of their time in meetings, unclear what the purpose is other than the fact that the meeting is supposed to happen once a week, leaving them with little one-on-one time with their teams, desperate to clear out an overflowing inbox, and dreaming about having some whitespace in their calendar so they can actually be innovative and think creatively about the strategic direction of the business, organization, or even simply their division or team.

How did we get here? Well, most strategy is traced back to military times so let’strace back meetings in the same way. Before email and photocopiers and fax machines, if you wanted multiple people in company to hear the same message and get on the same page you had a hold a meeting or send out a letter that was typed multiple times by the steno pool. With today’s technology most of the items covered in meeting updates can be easily sent in advance as pre-reading or simplified into key metrics (on-target, ahead, behind, unknown), focusing on what really matters.

Now I’m not for abolishing meetings. There is an approach that I’ve seen work most effectively for weekly team tactical meetings that focuses on quick updates, key metrics, a time limit, and no set agenda going into the room. If you’re thinking, “no set agenda, how would anything ever get accomplished?” fear not. The agenda is set during the meeting itself based on the top priorities for those attending, the key metrics, and where people feel stuck.

Here’s a framework you can use to structure weekly recurring tactical meetings within your business:

Personal Update – everyone shares the good, bad, ugly, of what’s going on with them both personally and in the business. This not only helps explain everyone’s context, it also helps build deeper relationships of trust.

Top Three – have everyone in the room state the top three things they are focused on over the next week.

Stuck Points – have everyone list what the number one thing is that is holding them back from being successful in their role that week. It can be anything from resources, health, time, people, information, technology, etc.

Top 3-5 Metrics – as a team, decide what your top 3-5 metrics are – the core numbers, financial and non-financial, that you need to watch weekly. Think of these as the “canary in the coalmine” helping you to forecast what’s going to happen in your financial future.

Build the Agenda – after hearing everyone’s updates, top three’s, stuck points, and the company metrics, decide which 3-5 items need the collective brain power in the room to tackle. Those items that don’t make that cut can most likely be dealt with “off-line.”

Rank the Agenda & Dive In – go through the 3-5 items on the agenda and rank them in order of priority so you are focusing on the most important things upfront. That way if you run out of time at least you’ve tackled the biggest opportunities and challenges.

Accountabilities, Decisions, and Communications – have everyone who is responsible for an accountability or decision list out their understanding of it, along with the timeline and who they need to communicate outcomes to.

Good News – have anyone in the room share any good news that the rest of the team might not be aware of.

Appreciations, Difficulties, and Closing Statements – as a way of closing have each person share an appreciation, difficulty (what they liked or didn’t like about the meeting or something someone did), and any closing statements they would like to make before heading back out in the fray.

In my experience it takes a good month or two of using this format with your team until you really start to see the leverage you can create. After implementing this format it’s not uncommon for executives and team members to say, “we’re actually getting things done, I paid attention through the whole meeting, and I’m excited about what we covered today.” Yes, they’re actually talking about a weekly meeting they “have” to attend. Strange, but true.

PDF of original column in BIV Boardroom Strategy – Fix Your Meetings – July 2011

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2 responses to “BIV Boardroom Strategy: Fix your meetings. Now.

  1. A great column as usual Mike! Helpful structure for taking the terror out of yawning meeting time-space, making it productive, engaging and inspiring.

  2. Really great set of ideas and a really useful template. So much is said about employee engagement, but this tends to be for people lower down the chain than upper management. This is the kind of meeting structure that will engage those higher up the chain.

    Thanks for this, tweeted.

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