Executive meetings are exactly the glue meant to align functions and goals across teams and departments, ensuring strategies are successfully implemented. Yet, many mishandle the scarce leadership time. After all, a well-designed meeting is easier said than done.
What is an executive meeting?
Executive team meetings are regularly scheduled meetings for heads of company departments to discuss, assess and plan company-wide strategy.
Also called leadership meetings, they are a great forum for aligning the goals and approaches of departments. Executive meetings are particularly tricky for a simple reason – they are treated as a given. Everyone knows it is necessary to have these meetings, but many mishandle them, wasting the time of top executives with unproductive informative meetings instead of focusing on key decisions.
Importance of executive meetings
During a particularly bad or boring meeting, besides daydreaming and nodding off, some executives like to play a little game. Try calculating the time you and other executives spend in meetings each month. Look around at the people that are frequent attendees of the meetings. Do you know or can you calculate the value of an hour of their time?
Now multiply it by the number of hours wasted in unproductive meetings. That is how much revenue your organization could be losing on time in meetings and that is not even the worst part.
The number puts things into perspective, but the consequences of unproductive meetings are much worse in the non-measurable human capital. These meetings are draining and breed both anxiety and cynicism, slowly paving the path for further digression.
Research has found a connection between meeting behavior and market share, and between innovation and employment stability. It has also found that workers’ feelings about meetings correlate with general job satisfaction. Further, 71% of senior managers from various industries view meetings as inefficient and unproductive, with 65% feeling that meetings keep them from completing their own work.
When put to good use, these meetings bring together the key decision-makers to create an effective place of discussion and decision making. Giving them the opportunity to brainstorm, envision, align, and commit to future actions. A large part should be concerned with identifying challenges and roadblocks going forward and then arriving at solutions to overcome these.
Discussion points for executive meetings
Many topics can be pertinent to executive meetings and even more of them can lead down a rabbit hole of bad meetings. What to put on a meeting agenda and what to leave out will always come down to the needs of your company and leadership team. However, there are some general rules to hold on to.
It is a great idea to divide the discussion points into operations and strategy. In fact, research shows that most successful companies already do this. Why? Reviewing operating performance and making long-term, complicated decisions are simply different activities, requiring different mindsets and types of discussion.
Some companies separate operation and strategy meetings entirely, others cover both in one meeting while clearly separating the operational discussions, also known as run the business meeting, from those focused on strategy and innovation, known as change the business meetings. Keeping them distinct helps attendees adopt the mindset and behavior suited to the issue at hand.
If you’re short on time, you might find that handling direct reports of everyday operations and status updates by filling in memos to be send out saves you loads of time. You can use templates to reflect on the past week or month, or even focus only on OKR completion. You can deliver the report to each attendee prior to the meeting day and once the meeting comes, you can in medias res jump to discussions and decisions.
An executive meeting should not be spent patting yourselves on the backs and forgetting to set up for future success, but it is a great opener. Start the meeting with a short block of sharing positive news from the departments. This not only helps to motivate and put the attendees at ease but gives insight to progress on projects.
Some tasks end in success others not yet and some never will. Make the team talk about the current problems they are facing in achieving set goals. Are these issues solvable? How? Other leaders can help by offering insights or help. It also gives you an overview of where the departments are standing on finishing projects. Executive meetings are great place to openly call out and discuss issues.
Deviations from plans
While listening to successes and roadblocks, concentrate on outcomes deviating meaningfully and materially from the original plan. Discussing things that are unfolding exactly as expected is often a waste of time.
This meeting or a part of the meeting focuses innovation, capturing business opportunities, creating competitive advantage, sharing lessons learned and removing impediments to progress, focusing on the key outcome.
This is the true gist of what leadership meetings should be about. This is a look to the future. Not where you stood at the beginning of the week, but where you stand now and want to stand the next week.Once you know where you want to go, how do you get there? This is the place where executives should provide insight on what their and other teams can do to properly align themselves and reach the goals together.
This is a daunting and time-consuming task but a detrimental one. To allow for it to play out to the full potential is exactly why you should consider leaving the operations side outside of the meetings.
Recommended frequency for executive meetings
In most organizations, executive meetings happen weekly without question. While it is great to stick to a schedule, weekly meetings might not be the best option for your team. The decision comes to several factors.
If you find that your weekly meetings are over in a couple minutes, why not make them less frequent? For things that come up in-between, you can use a different type of business meetings, for example the ad hoc meeting. On the other hand, if you frequently run out of allotted time, try longer meeting blocks.
The two options come with their own quirks and benefits. Weekly meetings allow for a schedule that is easy to follow. But, if these meetings do not have proper and exhaustive agenda, its just lost time. If you can and want to move the meeting to bi-weekly or monthly basis, you free up time for busy key workers to attend to other things. Yet, lower frequency of meetings can hurt consistency and leads to forgetfulness.
You can alleviate these adverse effects by properly documenting your meetings via a team management tool and using its meeting planner features. It will help you stay on top, knowing everyone is not only aware of the agenda for the meeting, but can always find the actual meeting time.
There is a third option – blending of both approaches. You can use monthly meetings to address critical long-term issues and plans and use the weekly ones for activity review and guidance on current issues.
Structure of executive meetings
Despite general rules, executive meetings are not an exact science. Each section of the meeting offers variable parts for you to pick and choose from, and find out what sticks.
Introduction and motivation
Each meeting, be it in business or not, requires some form of introduction. A way to ease into the modes of thinking and discussion about to be performed. It is not a good idea to spend more than 10 minutes on this, though, as it takes time and focus away from agenda.
To motivate and ease attendees in, it’s a great choice to share company and department wins, no matter how small. It shows progress being made and that all the hours pay off. This is also a great time to share small important messages and FYI that need to get out of the way before you bring out the big guns.
Address main agenda points
Identify the top objectives or issues that you and the team plan to address during the meeting. You can make sure the attendees are aware of them beforehand and prepare accordingly.
Discuss these points while remaining on topic for each one. Don’t forget to prepare and present relevant data from your metrics to illustrate and give context to the talking points. For example, an unsatisfying metric can illustrate both an issue and a goal.
When looking ahead, don’t forget to uncover and assess potential roadblocks and challenges you might meet. Why were you not able to reach set targets by now? How to solve this puzzle? What would make the road easier?
Just like with the previous section, the time here is variable. This is the section for deciding on further action. With clear and easy decisions, it might be over fast and other times it may drag out the meeting.
This is the time to outline and assign responsibility for action items. To keep track of what needs to be done and who should do it, task collaboration in team management tools will help you.
Dedicate the last minutes of the meeting to recapping the meeting, closing questions and making sure everyone is clear on the next steps.
7 tips to run effective executive meetings
Set clear objectives and agenda
The most critical aspect of effective executive meetings is having set clear objectives and agenda beforehand. Steer clear of longwinded buzzword objectives. Instead, make the objectives specific and actionable.
Share the agenda with all attendees beforehand and make sure everyone understands what needs to be discussed and accomplished. The priority and organization of these objectives is just as important. Make sure the most crucial agenda is on the top of the list, ensuring it gets enough time and recognition.
Focus on decisions instead of discussions
There might be a heated discussion on an unimportant topic and before you know it, 50% of our meeting time has been wasted. Stick to the agenda. Keep the meeting on track and maintain order. Be focused on making business decisions and getting the agenda items off the list.
Invite the right people
While it’s great to make sure each key executive has an active overview of everything happening in other departments, having them sit in on every meeting can be harmful. The gist of the meeting can always be relayed to other executives by other means, for example, by using and sharing the meeting notes template via Ayanza.
Respect the time of attendees
You are planning a meeting with the most valuable and busy people in the company. Their time and attention could make or break the company, so you do not want to needlessly rob them of their time. A key component of respecting their time is planning and letting them know about the meeting in due advance and making sure they know what to expect.
Encourage open communication
Encouraging open communication during executive meetings is crucial for making informed decisions. This means creating an environment where everyone feels comfortable expressing their opinions and concerns, even if they disagree with the majority.
Execute and set action items
Document all decisions and set clear action items with deadlines.
After the meeting, it's crucial to follow up on action items to ensure that they are completed on time. Set deadlines, follow up on progress and hold people accountable for their responsibilities.
How to set clear goals and expectations for executive meetings
The most important thing to do when planning an executive meeting is to decide what to include and what not. Research from Harvard Bussiness Review shows that approximately 65% of leadership team meetings are called for the wrong purposes. They don’t serve to make strategic decisions, but rather to share information and operations updates. Updates that could have been easily solved by sharing notes to go over before each meeting.
Once you have the agenda done, make sure everyone knows about it and understands it. Provide attendees with relevant documents and memos, so they know what to expect. It will save a lot of time. Executive meetings should be for discussing solutions and plans, not for catching up and brainstorming what to discuss.
Best practices for continuous improvement in executive meetings
Keep your eyes open and don’t hesitate to ask for feedback. You may find that even after years of seemingly successful meetings, there still is wriggle room.
Feedback from attendees
While both highly productive indispensable meetings and disorganized snoring-inducing ones can cause strong emotions, you might not be creating the time and place to share the feelings. Yet, asking for the feedback is incredibly easy. Even using an easy feedback form can be highly effective. The User Feedback template will help you with this.
Feedback from data
Metrics are an unending well of information. Performance reviews can uncover issues lying in inability to properly create and adhere to strategy. Is there a way a change in your meetings could affect these issues?
Make the most out of your upcoming executive meeting
Documenting and preparing source materials for meetings can be just as detrimental and haunting as carrying out the actual meeting. You don’t want to waste valuable meeting time with things that could’ve been prepared and covered beforehand. And you don’t want the talking points to be just that - a talk.
This is where Ayanza comes into play. We’ve mentioned several templates and features that may help you with the planning and documenting process. As a project management platform, Ayanza is a centralized solution for everything from communication, to collaborating on strategy development, progress tracking or even OKR creation.
Keep everyone in the loop via the team spaces. Spaces will allow you to streamline communication from sharing meeting notes among executives, all the way to passing all the key information to every employee and working key points into your knowledge base.
If your company holds executive meetings weekly and something comes up, there’s no need to worry. You can simply hold the meeting within Ayanza or open a discussion in a relaxed space reminiscent of regular social media.
Once everything is said and done, you need to make sure to properly document and act on decisions made in the meeting. Ayanza will help you with everything from the documentation process and sharing, all the way to assigning responsibility and task, all the way to monitoring the progress made.
How to keep executive sessions effective and appropriate?
Sadly, time spend in executive meetings is too valuable to allow for downtime and personal updates. Yet, sharing department wins, even the smaller ones, is a great way to motivate attendees and get in the right mindset. Just make sure you don’t fall into the rabbit hole of pointless small talk and overdrawn discussions.
With all the busiest and most valuable team members in one room, not wasting time is detrimental. You will have to be strict with keeping allotted time slots and closing irrelevant discussions prematurely, no matter how interesting they get. Remember you have a clear set agenda to adhere to in limited time.
What is the purpose of executive-level meetings?
These meetings bring together the key decision-makers in the company to create an effective place of discussion and decision making. Giving them the opportunity to brainstorm, envision, align, and commit to future actions. While discussing the current state of strategy implementation is common, the main focus should be on future action.
Who is involved in the executive meeting?
The meeting is meant for the CEO and all heads of departments. However, this does not always need to be the case. Other staff members may be needed for a particular executive session. At the same time, not every meeting requires every executive to attend. It all comes down to the meeting agenda. You want to make sure every relevant person in charge is present, while no one’s time is being wasted.