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How to Run Strategic Meetings

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Episode Description

There are topics that come up for every leadership team that take longer than 10 minutes to get through. But even the biggest questions and decisions to be made can be tackled well in just 90 minutes, with the right approach. Strategic meetings are the first of the three foundational meeting types that will enable your leadership team to actually spend less time in meetings and get more done.

What you’ll learn:

  • The three meeting types [00:58]
  • What should a strategic meeting look like? [02:49]
  • How to prepare for a strategic meeting [06:23]
  • The important roles that make this meeting work [07:43]
  • Tips to remember during a strategic meeting [09:03]
  • How to end the meeting well [10:08]


JIM (00:04): Welcome to The OrgHealth Podcast: conversations about organizational health. I'm Jim Brown.

MARGOT (00:10): And I'm Margot Thompson. We're consultants and coaches to leaders who are creating healthy organizations.

JIM (00:15): We talk about leading at the executive level. Not just the key points, the highlights, we like to go deeper.

MARGOT (00:22): Under the surface. We like to talk about what isn't obvious.

JIM (00:26): And maybe what isn't comfortable.

MARGOT (00:28): Right. And we come at these things with very different viewpoints—easy because Jim and I are very, very different from each other.

JIM (00:35): That's true. But the good news is we've worked together long enough that we see our differences as strengths.

MARGOT (00:41): In fact, they actually allow us to create more health in our team and the teams that we help. And we're going to do some of that right now.

JIM (00:58): Margot, we're going to talk about meetings this week, and in fact, not just this week—four weeks in a row we're going to talk about meetings, because it's a really important topic for leaders.

MARGOT (01:08): Yeah, absolutely. That's great because so many meetings are just not well done. They're uninspiring, they're not effective. We hear a lot of complaints about them.

JIM (01:19): Yeah. So we hear people say things like, well, we just hear about what everyone else is doing. Or, it seems like we go over the… all over the map.

MARGOT (01:28): Yeah. Bunny trails. That's what they complain about a lot.

JIM (01:31): Yeah. And often they wonder if, did we actually make any decisions?

MARGOT (01:36): Yeah. And really they just feel like it's taken up their time for no good reason. They listen, they go back and start their own work just as they always would.

JIM (01:46): Yeah. And they wish that they didn't have the distractions.

MARGOT (01:48): Exactly.

JIM (01:49): So we believe that a reason for this is actually because what happens is what we call meeting stew, where every kind of conversation that a team might have seems to come up in a team meeting. And that's the reason that these meetings are not very effective. If we could be more clear about what are we meeting for and what does it need to look like, every meeting for the team will be better.

MARGOT (02:18): Yes. So we suggest that executive teams start holding three types of meetings to do three very different things. And we're going to talk about those meetings over the next several weeks.

JIM (02:29): Right. Let's foreshadow. There are meetings that we call daily stand-up meetings. There are meetings that are the weekly tactical meetings. And then there are ad hoc (but commonly on a monthly rhythm) strategic meetings. And today we're going to talk about strategic meetings.

MARGOT (02:49): Okay. So Jim, one of the most common problems that we have with team meetings that we're seeing with our clients is that the big topics arise, but there's not really enough time to actually look at them and address them. So everybody would be a lot better off if those big topics were saved and talked about in strategic meetings.

JIM (03:08): Right. So let's just presume that that's happening and we're gonna walk through what a strategic meeting could look like. How does, how does a team make that work so that they really wrestle the big topics to the ground, come up with a clear conclusion and now as a team they can continue to move forward and lead from that spot.

MARGOT (03:31): So, these meetings end up being, oh, say once a month or so. And they typically take about 90 minutes for a really good conversation to happen.

JIM (03:40): Right. But it's common that that a team will say, well, why don't we just set aside the morning and we'll tackle a couple of strategic topics. So it could be two 90 minute segments. They just sit together through the, the two different topics.

MARGOT (03:54): So let's talk about what some of the topics that our clients schedule for strategic meetings.

JIM (03:59): Sure. So there are things like, wait, is this a market opportunity that we should pursue? That's an important question. And it's not one that you can just answer in 10 minutes.

MARGOT (04:10): Or how are we handling our growth? Are we hiring temps fast or are we taking a lot of time to find the people who fit long-term to our culture?

JIM (04:18): Yeah. Not so long ago, one of our clients in a mining setting, worked through the difficult thing of safety records suddenly going sour and he called an emergency strategic meeting so that they could rethink: how are they going to address that? That was a very strategic meeting.

MARGOT (04:41): Great example. Another thing they talk about is acquisitions. What kind of company that they're looking to acquire in that sort of a situation.

JIM (04:49): Yeah. And, thinking of that, very recently we worked with a company that had merged with another company and they were trying to figure out what name should we use? Should it be this company or that company should, or should it be a totally new name for the two companies together?

MARGOT (05:06): Yeah. And in a lot of those situations they struggle with morale and it's sort of plummeted. So they're wondering what are we going to do about that? How are we going to shift morale?

JIM (05:16): Right. So it turns out that these topics sometimes are very strategic and overarching and sometimes they're much more mundane that it's just like, well, we've got to solve this little problem, but let's come together and figure it out. Either way, it's not a small topic and not a small conversation. We need to tackle these well. And sometimes people wonder, well, how do we even know if it's a strategic topic? I really like what Joseph Grenny and his colleagues talk about in the book, Crucial Conversations. What are the three characteristics that he identified as elements of a crucial conversation?

MARGOT (05:59): So we know that he talks about the stakes are really high, that opinions on the topic are varied, and that people feel really, really strongly about it.

JIM (06:12): Yes. So if, if we are aware of a topic that shows those characteristics, it's pretty much a giveaway that here is a candidate for a strategic meeting.

MARGOT (06:23): I think we need to note here that what's really important is making sure great research is shared ahead of the meeting.

JIM (06:29): Right. So the team comes together, let's not just have energetic opinion, but make sure that we're coming with some really good foundational information, shared understanding. So some of the questions that should be considered and information that should be provided would, would follow an outline like this. What's the problem that needs to be explained in pre-meeting material?

MARGOT (06:57): Right. And what's at stake actually, what's it going to cost or earn or win or lose or improve?

JIM (07:04): Yep. Good. And maybe there's some background that we need to know about, like maybe the company tried this before and here's how it didn't work or why it didn't work. Something like that.

MARGOT: (07:16): Yeah. And take a look at the options. What are maybe three compelling options to look at.

JIM (07:21): Yeah. That's, that's so important that, that when we come to the meeting, it isn't like there's 400 options. Neither is it, there's only one option. Here are some compelling options. But even further, what are the pros and cons? If some leg work would be done before we even get there, that gives everybody a running start to the conversation.

MARGOT (07:43): And then it's important that you assign a champion for the issue. And that's just someone who makes sure that the research actually gets done. It doesn't mean they have to do it themselves. They could be delegating it, but they're the ones who are responsible and they make sure that it's distributed and that the meeting is scheduled and that all of the information is well-communicated in advance.

JIM (08:03): Right. The people know: here's when we're going to meet, here's what, where, where we're meeting and here's the material that we all need to digest before we get there. Well let's, let's go a little bit deeper. Let's talk about some of the things that make these meetings wonderful, productive… or not. One of the simple little pieces is that somebody needs to actually be assigned to keep the notes from the meeting. And this is something we've noticed, Margot, where teams in their weekly meetings, they've got a format for how they kind of quickly run through the conversation. And it's usually a pretty brief kind of conclusion that they get to, there's a few action steps or something. These meetings there can be a lot more meat to it. So it's crucial that we don't lose the, the ground that we gain in this kind of strategic conversation and we will lose it unless we have someone capturing the notes.

MARGOT (09:03): And let's talk about the importance of team dynamics and how it can affect this kind of meeting. We need to be always looking for engagement from everybody and mining for conflict, like looking for where is there conflict. And I'm always reminded of how you say silence is not agreement. We tend to think that people who aren't saying anything are naturally just agreeing with us, but in fact it's more likely that they're not. So making sure that you're hearing from those people when they're not saying something is very, very important.

JIM (09:37): Yeah, and sometimes teams have found that what is helpful is that for a strategic meeting, one topic, someone around the table be assigned to be kind of the monitor of team dynamics so that even though there is a person facilitating the conversation, another one is making sure that we're hearing from people and...

MARGOT (10:00): Watching the body language.

JIM (10:01): That kind of stuff, yeah.

MARGOT (10:02): Yeah, absolutely. That's how you come to a commitment about decisions, making sure that everybody's weighed in.

JIM (10:08): Yeah. So, so then another curious one is the team figure out when the conversation is done, as in we've talked about this enough that we can actually come to a conclusion. Sometimes there's this tendency on bigger, broader topics to just kind of let it go on and on and even feel like, and we probably should meet again in another week to talk about this. And, our push is no, do good pre-work so that there's great information before the meeting and kind of commit yourselves to figure out an answer before you end the meeting.

MARGOT (10:49): I think one of the things that teams struggle with a lot is they feel like each member brings into a strategic meeting, their own agenda and often they go, you know, down the track of one of those pieces rather than being able to look at the holistic strategic issue.

JIM (11:05): Right, right. And sometimes even there's two, two people that are in the same sort of vein. They are eager to kind of push each other deep, deep, deep. The rest, sit back, kind of let the conversation happen. That would be another signal. The conversation should end here. This team has done its part and now the decision is made. What's the next action? A way that we talk about this is that the team should focus on the what, what is the decision that we're making? The how doesn't have to get figured out by this team. It's very appropriate to say, okay, so this is going to be a combination of Theresa and Bill working together because that's HR and Production, figuring out how to do this. And that's just, they pass it to the next kind of layer with that.

MARGOT (12:00): I think that that's a real struggle that they feel that they want to resolve the whole thing, not just the what, but the how as well within this particular meeting and that understanding that releases them from that sort of a pressure that keeps the meeting going and going and going.

JIM (12:13): Right, right. And the truth is that in those moments, there are some people around the table that are just wishing they could be somewhere else. And then there are, there are a few that take the bait. They really like to go into the detail on the how and so, yes. Just agree that's not what happens in these strategic meetings.

MARGOT (12:35): So what do you think about the concept of making the champion the meeting chair?

JIM (12:39): I like that. I think that, here's one reason: a great chair is a person who is focusing more on facilitating rather than on contributing to the content.

MARGOT (12:52): Exactly.

JIM (12:53): And a downside of the, the champion being a high participant is that they may have been the one that had their nose in this the most, so they might have the most opinion and content at their fingertips. It's better for them to be required to kind of be quieter and be drawing in the perspectives out of the rest of the team.

MARGOT (13:17): Yeah, let the rest of the team weigh in.

JIM (13:18): Exactly. Well those are just a few ideas to try to make these strategic meetings work well and we believe that if every team knows that they can just kind of put something to the side, they will come to it as a team and make these decisions together. It releases all the other meetings to be more effective too.

MARGOT (13:39): I know that meetings might seem very dry and like a boring kind of topic, but the truth is that meetings can make or break how well you're doing with your team. Strategic meetings are one piece, and we're going to be talking next about the daily and weekly tactical meetings as well. So both the daily and the weekly meetings are pivotal for bringing issues right out in the open. This way you can create an understanding of the connections and the implications that affect everyone in the organization. It's incredibly powerful the way that an effective meeting can impact your team and your company.

JIM (14:15): Okay! We want you to go out and try what we've talked about today on your own leadership team.

MARGOT (14:21): You can ask us questions or download notes from this episode at www.orghealth.coach. We'd love for you to join us next Thursday on The OrgHealth Podcast.

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