As a change agent, you might occasionally need to facilitate a leadership team to drive your change initiative forward. Like many meetings, leadership team meetings can be boring and ineffective. Leadership team meetings are especially challenging because the time when the entire team can meet in the same room is rare and easily squandered.
Follow these five rules to increase the productivity of your leadership team meetings, and thus make progress on your change initiative.
1. Know the goal. What do you need the leadership team to do by the end of their limited time together? What are the key decisions that need to be made, and what issues should be discussed? Design the meeting with the required steps and final outcome in mind.
2. Prepare in advance. At a bare minimum, create and distribute the agenda and any review materials beforehand. To be most effective, meet with individual team members before the meeting to prepare them for what is expected of them. Leave only the key items that need to be done together for the meeting agenda. Everything else should be done in advance to the extent possible.
3. Build, don’t create. If your initiative requires that the leadership team develop something new (like a strategy, scorecard, new product, etc.), do not start with a blank sheet of paper at the meeting. To quote Jeff Lebow of Alignment at Work, LLC, “It’s easier to criticize than to create.” Although it can be tempting to have the team create something from scratch as a means to build buy-in to the final product, the process can be frustrating, takes longer, and is unnecessary. Build a draft from the input you receive during the pre-meetings, and point out where the group agreed and disagreed as a starting point for a more meaningful conversation.
4. Separate the important from the urgent. If the team starts discussing the latest fire, the meeting will be derailed. Unfortunately, as a team that probably meets infrequently, they might use your meeting as an opportunity to catch up on the latest news and updates. As much as possible, keep the focus on the important topic at hand. Use a “parking lot,” a separate flip-chart where extraneous topics can be captured and discussed at a later time.
5. Integrate fun. Stodgy boardrooms need a jolt of energy to break its inhabitants out of their normal habits. Sometimes the air is thick with politics when leaders get in the same room. Play and humor are great equalizers. Use creativity toys, games and role-playing to break the tension, kick leaders out of their comfort zones and get your point across. When you take charge as a facilitator, you’ll be surprised what people will do if you tell them to, regardless of their title.
One way to increase support for your change initiative is to not make key leaders dread getting together to talk about it. When you follow these rules, meetings will start to be meaningful and productive, and even enjoyable.