“Meetings move rocks” – Michael Synk, author of “Rock & Sand

Many of us hate meetings. Many regular meetings are boring and ineffective indeed. They don’t have the right agenda (or no agenda at all), are not well facilitated, and don’t accomplish much.

Yet the right meetings lead to faster and better decision-making, increase accountability throughout the organization, and improve communication. In short: efficient meetings get your quarterly priorities accomplished. Together with aligning your leadership team around the top 2 to 3 quarterly priorities and measuring what matters, implementing a consistent meeting and communication rhythm enables you to focus and execute on your strategic plan.

How do you go from boring meetings to impactful meetings? Start with a good planning and communication rhythm with your leadership team, which ideally includes 5 meetings :

  • Daily huddle.
  • Weekly accountability meeting.
  • Monthly check-in and education session.
  • Quarterly planning and education session.
  • Annual planning retreat.

Each of these meetings has a different goal with a different agenda. The key is to maintain the discipline to stick to the agenda and the goal of each meeting. When you do not, meetings get too long, become ineffective, and people start skipping them. For example: While it can be tempting to discuss strategic changes in a daily or weekly meeting, this is not the right place: table this until your next quarterly meeting.

Daily huddles synchronize your team

This 10-minute team meeting at the beginning of every day helps you synchronize your leadership team, speed up decisions, and expose challenges. It is a more efficient, formalized version of the multiple water-cooler conversations that you have throughout the day.

During a daily huddle each team member shares:

  • What’s up? What is going on that the team should know about?
  • Where are you stuck?
  • What is your #1 priority of the day?

A few tips to make daily huddles efficient:

  • Make sure that everybody comes prepared, which will keep the meeting short. Part of the value-added of this meeting is to get everybody to define their #1 priority of the day and their roadblocks, ahead of time.
  • Don’t start solving problems in this meeting. Schedule a different meeting at a different time, only with the people required to solve this problem – not necessarily the whole team.
  • Appoint a strong-willed facilitator who makes sure that people remain on point and that the meeting ends on time. Ideally the facilitator should not be the CEO – CEOs tend to jump into problem-solving right away, which you want to avoid in this meeting.
  • Circle around 3 times: ask each team member to answer the first question, go around the circle, and then move to the next question. This will naturally force people to prepare for the meeting (it makes it painfully obvious if you haven’t prepared a question).
  • Question #2 (“stuck”) is critical, because you want to know where people are stuck in order to avoid surprises and identify who can help them. You want to know their “stucks” even when they can solve their problem themselves. Team members who are not “stuck” several days in a row are probably not being 100% transparent.
  • Start at the same time every day and make it mandatory. The only valid reason to skip a day is if you are sick or if the building is on fire. “I am busy” is not a valid excuse.
  • Stand up: it gives each member more energy, and it will help you end on time.

Weekly meetings move your strategy forward

Weekly leadership team meetings are what moves your strategy forward. They are the most difficult meetings to run effectively, and they often turn into boring updates, urgent firefighting, or into a strategy planning session; none of these are the goal of your weekly meeting. You want to focus on the execution of your quarterly strategic priorities.

Done right the weekly leadership meeting is the most important meeting to build accountability, among others through peer pressure – relieving some pressure off the CEO’s shoulders.

The key to a good weekly meeting is to be very clear on your 2 or 3 quarterly priorities as a leadership team, and to define a 13-week plan for each of these priorities at the beginning of each quarter. The weekly meeting then becomes the forum to check progress on these weekly plans, take corrective actions where needed, and discuss roadblocks in the accomplishment of these priorities.

Here is an example of agenda:

  • KPIs status.
  • Status on the quarterly priorities:
    • Progress made over the past 7 days.
    • Next steps in the next 7 days to accomplish each priority.
    • Roadblocks?
  • Status on the problematic action items from previous weekly meetings (ie with a “yellow” or “red” status – don’t spend time during this meeting on the action items that have been performed on time).
  • Brainstorm on 1 or 2 issues/roadblocks identified during the week, that are preventing your team from accomplishing your quarterly priorities (leveraging collective intelligence).
  • Document action items.

Tips:

  • Use a task management tool to document your new action items and assign a person responsible and a deadline. Ask each team member to check off an action item when they have done it – so that you can focus only on the action items that are late (or at risk of being late) during your next weekly meeting.
  • Brainstorming: make sure that it is well prepared, with a clear description of the problem to solve or of the ask upfront. Keep the presentation insightful but short: The highest value is in the debate that follows the presentation, not in the presentation itself.
  • Start and end on time. The meeting should last 60 to 90 minutes.
  • The weekly meeting is about executing on your quarterly priorities, not about changing your plan to chase a new shiny opportunity. Table shiny ideas and discuss them in your next quarterly meeting.
  • This meeting often works best when facilitated by the CEO.

Monthly meetings ensure progress towards your quarterly plan

This is where big fixes occur on how to tackle your quarterly priorities in order to ensure their completion, with questions like:

  • How are we doing on each of the quarterly priorities? Are we moving in the right direction?
  • Which roadblocks do we need to remove to accomplish our quarterly priorities, and how?
  • What is working and should we do more of?

The agenda of a monthly meeting is typically structured like this:

  • Review the quarterly performance and KPIs to date. What is working / what is not working?
  • Collaborate on issues / roadblocks that can prevent you from accomplishing your quarterly priorities. What do we need to do differently? What do we need to keep doing?
  • Executive education (personal/team growth).
  • Plan communication with the rest of the team.

A monthly meeting is about half a day.

Quarterly meetings align your team on key priorities

The main goal of your quarterly meeting is to reload your strategic plan for the next 90 days. As Mike Goldman explains in “Breakthrough Leadership Team”: “The most important part of your strategic plan is your quarterly plan; that is where the real work happens. Your quarterly plan creates focus and urgency. Quarterly priorities don’t allow room for procrastination. All of the longer-term planning work you do is for the purpose of deciding what needs to be accomplished in the next 90 days.”

The agenda of a quarterly meeting is typically structured like this:

  • Review the performance of the previous quarter (How have we performed on the quarterly priorities? How have we done on quarterly KPIs?).
  • Review the company’s core ideology (e.g. core purpose, core values) and 3-year plan – adjust where needed based on the learnings from the previous quarter.
  • Check in on leadership team health and talent development.
  • Talent assessment (2x / year).
  • Executive education (eg quarterly book discussion).
  • Identify the quarterly priorities for the upcoming quarter.
  • Define the KPIs to measure the progress on your priorities in the following 13 weeks.
  • Plan communication with the rest of the team.

A quarterly meeting is a full-day meeting – which may sound like a lot. The value of this quarterly meeting is essential though, as Brad Giles, the author of “Made to Thrive”, explains: “Some people might look at strategic planning and think: “Why do you go offsite and spend a day or two talking about the business in a meeting? You’ve been doing it for years, going around and around doing the same thing.” They look at the process like this:

Yet if you look at the same circles with a different perspective you can see what is really happening there. Every quarter, every year we are spiraling upwards. It is the same situation with a different perspective:

Every time we meet, we are better than the last time, we are building on all the foundations previously laid. We are learning new and deeper insights into the things we have worked on before. The business plan we build through each day is better than the last one, and the one before that. And the business profit and value are doing exactly the same thing. Spiraling upward.”

Meeting ground rules

A few rules are essential to creating the proper, constructive atmosphere during your meetings: 

  • Total honesty: things that you are uncomfortable sharing are the most important things to say (e.g. admit a mistake, admit that you need help, voice that someone is not delivering on their commitment, give someone feedback). You need this level of vulnerability to create the right level of constructive, idea-based conflicts in your meetings, in order to make the right decisions and create team accountability.
  • No shame no blame: the purpose of being brutally honest is not to point fingers. The purpose is not to look back, but to look forward: How do we make it better next time?
  • Disagree and commit: we can disagree around the table – it might get heated. But once everybody has had a chance to be heard and a decision has been made everybody needs to commit to this decision, as if it was their own idea.

Conclusions

Many companies have a clear strategy but fail at executing it: their priorities don’t get achieved, or not completely, or not in a quality manner – and as a result their growth is sluggish while people work long hours. There are three essential execution disciplines to help you turn your strategy into reality:

  • Clear priorities.
  • Clear KPIs (to measure how your business and your priorities progress)
  • Clear meeting rhythm

Meetings are the glue of your execution: they will align your teams on your top 2-3 quarterly priorities, lead to better decision-making, and increase accountability. In short: efficient meetings get your quarterly priorities accomplished. The key is to maintain the discipline to stick to the agenda and the goal of each meeting.

As a business coach I work with CEOs and founders of mid-market companies who are frustrated because their business is not growing the way they want; often they lose sleep at night because they are constantly fighting fires and can’t focus on their most important priorities during the day – typically a sign that their company has outgrown their management approach. I help them adjust their management approach to get back on track to profitable growth. Poor execution and inefficient meetings are often one of their roadblocks – which slows down the company growth. I would like to learn about your growth roadblocks; contact me to discuss at Xavier@AmbroseGrowth.com.

What about you? How do your meetings help you execute your strategy?