I was working with two different organizations that were going through significant growth and change. One company had completed its second acquisition of a large competitor and was in the midst of integrating teams, products and strategies to optimize this significant change and growth.
The other company had done such a great job in their core business of selling machines and hardware that they were expanding their market reach into adjacent areas of software development and consulting. This change required new capabilities, skills, processes and mindset.
Needless to say, in both cases, there were many complex details for the leadership teams to debate, make decisions about and iron out both in their growth and change strategy, as well as in its execution. In both cases, decisions were not being made fast enough.
The leadership teams of both of these companies had a similar routine of holding a weekly call for about 90 minutes each, where leaders, in turn, shared updates on the activities they were working on. These weekly calls were mostly oriented around updates and sharing with little-to-no interaction or debate. In fact, most leaders didn’t find these weekly calls very productive and critical, so throughout the calls, they were busy doing their emails while the call was going on, so they weren’t even paying that much attention to their colleague’s updates to begin with.
Needless to say, these weekly update calls were not the forum where the leaders could debate and dig into the big topics of challenges and opportunities that were affecting everyone’s day-to-day life given all the massive growth and change they were going through.
Every one of the leaders in both companies felt a burning need for their leadership team to spend quality time together in order to debate the urgent topics that were on their minds, but they had no other meeting scheduled beyond the weekly calls to do that in.
The leaders actually did have plenty of opportunities to meet each other in-person in their quarterly business reviews (QBR) and other company functions, but these always included many other participants beyond the leaders so there was no opportunity for alone time for the leaders. They occasional dinners together as a leadership team also didn’t provide the opportunity for meaningful debates.
Everyone was frustrated about the lack of quality leadership team time, but no one did anything much about it. When I asked why the leaders don’t schedule additional leadership team meetings people responded with: “We are too busy with the day-to-day” and “We can’t find the time….”. When I challenged them they added and explained: “We have too many other meetings that are filling our schedule, that are a waste of time; things we could cover via email”
I see this exact same dynamic with so many companies!!!
The “We don’t have time” excuse is exactly that – a lame excuse and a cop out!
It’s actually worse, the need for the leadership team to spend quality time in order to debate and address the big challenges and opportunity of their growth and change is real and critical. It is not a “luxury” or “nice to have”. It is a “must” and a “leadership responsibility”. Not doing it is unacceptable.
The solution is actually quite simple and straightforward:
- Have the courage to stop/cancel all the meetings that are unproductive and not a good use of time.
- Share information that could be shared/updated via email – via email.
- Schedule meetings with enough time, on topics that are important. For a company that is going through significant change, the leadership team should meet no less than once a quarter for one or two full days. In some periods/phases of change, even that is insufficient and the leadership team should meet every month or every other month.
- Make sure the important meetings are productive, with clear objectives, agenda and someone to manage/facilitate them. Don’t let them decline or get out of control.
If you stop the ineffective and worthless meetings and you make sure the important meetings are productive and worthwhile people won’t feel like there are too many meetings. They will simply see these as “what we do to be successful”