By Shaun Lee and Joe Olwig
Raise your hand if you feel like your leadership meetings aren’t as effective as they could be. We can relate. Years ago, I (Shaun) was on a leadership team who struggled to get to the issues that mattered most. You know, the issues that would keep us from accomplishing our vision and the ones that could damage our culture. After sitting through about a year of what frankly were, meh meetings, a colleague pulled me aside after the meeting and said, “You know it’s very possible that we successfully get through the entire agenda every week and avoid talking about the topics that matter most, right?” Her point was that the objective of the meeting seemed to be to get through the agenda, instead of ensuring we were using the time to work through the most important issues we were facing. It set us on a path to design better leadership team meetings.
We have developed the following weekly Leadership Team Meeting (LTM) agenda to help nonprofits get the most out of the one time they bring their leadership team together each week. The first step is to find a 90-minute block of time that your team can honor week over week in perpetuity. Ninety minutes may seem long, but when executed effectively it will drive so many efficiencies throughout the week that the extra half hour will be well worth it. Implementing this format will empower your team to stay tethered to your long-term vision while being responsive to the present-day problems and tensions. It will also result in the alignment needed to get everyone rowing in the same direction. Once your top leadership teams makes the LTM a regular habit, other teams throughout the organization can also adopt this weekly rhythm.
- What: a prompt that invites everyone to share something that isn’t related to work.
- Why: Gives each person a chance to check their whole self into the meeting
- Example: What was the highlight of your weekend?
- Length: 5 minute
- What: Quick review of quarterly priorities and vital metrics. Review vitals trends and progress towards quarterly priorities with the aim of identifying anything that needs to be flagged for discussion in the Solve section of the meeting
- Why: Ensures the leadership team remains focused on the most important priorities every week and can identify key challenges to be solved. Reviewing the vitals orients the team to its desired measurable impact, encouraging adjustments towards positively impacting them.
- Length: 10 minutes
- What: This is the time for each leader to share key updates that might impact other leaders. These should be shared about 30-60 seconds. Check for key updates in each of the following areas: Operations, Administration, Development, Programs and Finance.
- Why: Ensure the right hand knows what the left hand is doing. Every organization is an interconnected system, and this is a chance to thoughtfully consider how an update in one department can impact another.
- Examples: A potential new grant, a new service provider partnership, or a new HR process/benefit.
- Length: 5 mins
- What: Review the previous weeks recorded actions. Each leader should come prepared to report out on their assigned actions that are due this week
- Why: Helps to build a culture of accountability and trust
- Length: 5 minutes
- What: The Build section of the meeting is intended to be a time in which a leader can onboard or train the rest of the team on a new process, concept, benefit, etc. Unlike Triage (up next on the agenda), the Build creates the space for leaders across the team to think proactively about how to increase team strength and alignment. The goal is to share vital information that is longer than a quick update during the Integration section.
- Why: to build team cohesion through a culture of pro-active vibrant communication
- Example: Training the team how to run and analyze a new monthly financial report that each leader needs to be aware of.
- Length: 15 minutes
- What: Identify the most significant challenges or tensions that you are facing this week. Prioritize the top 5 and start with the first one. The goal is to address 3-5 per meeting.
- Why: Unlike an agenda that’s created before the meeting starts, this format encourages leaders to bring the most important and pressing issues that matter right now. It encourages agility and responsiveness which are so vital in the dynamic ever-changing world we live in.
- Examples: How to get a quarterly priority back on track. High turnover among case managers. Grant allocated funds that aren’t being spent down on time.
- Length: 45 minutes
- What: Review actions that have been recorded throughout the meeting, identify cascading messages that need to be shared outside the meeting
- Why: Drive clarity in action items and ensure that leaders understand their responsibility to share key information to everyone that reports to them
- Examples: Billy to bring updated forecast of high probability grants by 9/5, Michelle to share key findings from university study of our peer support model.
- Length: 5 minutes
As you try the LTM format on, know that it will take some time to master it. It’s common to get to the Triage section of the meeting with only 30 minutes left instead of 45 in the beginning. Work each week to get a little better in following the allotted time for each section. Avoid the temptation to jump right into discussing a problem early in the meeting. Otherwise, you end up discussing the first problem that arises and haven’t taken the time to prioritize the most important ones in the Triage section. The commitment to prioritizing the issues that matter most each week is a significant tool in building a healthy culture with little drama.
Teams cast vision for 3-5 years into the future, but it all comes down to the progress that is made week over week. Learning to run an effective LTM is one of the capabilities leadership teams can master to ensure they accomplish their vision.