One of the many things I get to do in my role here at Rhythm Systems is work with our CEO Patrick Thean to coordinate and run our monthly management team meetings. This monthly meeting is a key component for our leadership team’s success; it gets us all aligned, it reinforces and enhances our company culture, it engages and re-focuses our leaders, and it is a great way for us to learn together each month.
If you are already having quarterly planning, weekly meetings and daily huddles, you might wonder: “What on earth is this meeting for?” or “Why do we need another meeting when we already have so many?” Of course, you should not have a monthly leadership team meeting if it is just another meeting, but if you are intentional and plan the meeting with purpose, it is an invaluable component of your company’s meeting rhythms to drive communication, alignment, accountability, focus, and growth.
Planning for the Monthly Meeting
Before the meeting starts, clarifying key roles will help you ensure things run smoothly. I recommend these roles:
- Facilitator - This person will kick off the discussions, ensure the meeting runs on time, and keep everyone on track with the agenda. Typically, this person will work with the organizer to determine the agenda in advance, ensure the prep work (if needed) is distributed, and put together any slides or visuals needed for running the meeting.
- Organizer - This person secures the dates and locations for the meeting and ensures the room is set up with the right supplies or technology (putting out flip chart paper and markers, setting up a virtual meeting, or ordering lunch or snacks, if needed). This person also may work with the facilitator on the agenda and slides and coordinate with the team to be sure everyone is prepared.
- Note-taker - This person keeps notes during the meeting. Capturing specific Actions or who-what-whens as they come up during the meeting is key to staying accountable and following through on deliverables and decisions that come out of the time together.
You may have different roles that are important for your team. If you have a virtual meeting, you might also assign someone to watch the virtual team for “hand raising” or to remind the team to let the virtual team participate in the discussions.
Once you’ve identified an accountable person for each of the key roles, it’s time to think about the content and structure for your meeting. Typically, you will need at least a couple of hours for this meeting, or you may need all day if you are doing some leadership development and training time with the team.
Here’s an agenda template that you can modify for your team’s needs:
Don’t just jump right into the agenda; set the stage well for the meeting so you can ensure productive time together. The purpose of the monthly management meeting is to get the team aligned and grow them as leaders. Model how to run an effective meeting with an opening, a clear and specific agenda, and a closing so the managers can take those best practices back to their teams.
The opening of your meeting should include the following:
- Connection to your company strategy and culture. Share your core values, core purpose, and BHAG. Ask for examples of people living the core values, or have team members submit stories in advance and give out an award. Make it meaningful for your team, and use this opportunity to connect and ground with your company’s foundational strategy.
- Icebreaker. You can get creative here and have some fun, or you can keep it to a simple round of victories/good news from the team. You could combine this with #1 and have each person share a short core values story as the icebreaker. Be sure you include some way for each person to speak up and get engaged in the meeting.
- Alignment around objectives for the meeting. Always open the meeting by sharing a clear objective so everyone knows why they are here and what they are hoping to accomplish. It’s also a good idea to share the agenda upfront to set the stage for the day.
You may also want to include some time for employee recognition. We take time to celebrate birthdays, work anniversaries, and top bloggers for the month in the opening of our monthly team meetings.
We call this the “Company State of the Union.” This is the chance for the CEO or President or Founder to address the leaders directly and share key company updates. Our CEO wants all of our leaders to understand our business and our financials really well so we can all make good decisions to move our company in the right direction (we play the Great Game of Business and believe in transparency). We spend a lot of time in the company update covering where we are so far based on our budgets and looking at our financial KPIs.
If that’s not how your business operations, you don’t have to share financials, but you should share the state of affairs for your company, and your progress on the company’s main goals for the quarter. The department and team leaders in this management meeting aren’t all in your weekly executive team meetings, so they appreciate hearing updates on how things are going at the executive team level. We’ve found that even a little CEO talk time can go a long way toward getting everyone in the leadership team on the same page.
I know what you are thinking - status updates? While we are not in favor of weekly status update meetings, you have an important opportunity for communication and alignment cross-functionally when you have all of your team leaders in one room once a month. Taking part of your time in your monthly management meeting to hear from each team and ask questions will help break down those unintended silos.
You work hard in the planning process to communicate the goals clearly and gain alignment between the teams - don’t let that hard work go to waste by not putting in the time throughout the quarter to continue communicating about the progress toward those goals. Getting aligned at the beginning of the quarter is only part of the fight against silos - you have to stay aligned as you execute and make adjustments throughout the quarter. Your monthly management meeting is a perfect venue for this.
While the status update portion of the meeting is important, it is key to maximize this time by setting some limits to ensure it is productive:
- Put a time limit for each presentation. I always find that if I tell someone they have 10 minutes for their status update, they prepare 30 slides and would take a half hour if I let them. So, set a clear time limit and hold each presenter accountable. I use a timer for this and put it on the screen so the presenter (and everyone else) can see as the minutes tick down. Once the alarm goes off, that team’s time is up, even if they only got to slide 5 of 35.
- Set a clear agenda for the update time. Don’t leave it up to each team leader to decide what to share with the rest of the management team. Give some parameters so that the right information is communicated by each team. For example, you might ask for each team leader to share the following in 10 minutes:
- Current status of top 1-3 KPIs for the team
- Recent team successes
- Any current obstacles
- Make it interactive. If the purpose of the status updates are for alignment, build in time for clarifying questions. After the 10 minutes are up for the sales team leader, give the rest of the team 5 more minutes to ask questions. That way, if one team presents something that sounds “off” or doesn't jive with what another team leader is thinking or expecting, you have some time for those issues to at least surface, even if you can’t wrestle them to the ground right then. Again, hold to the time limit with a timer for the 5 minutes, and use a Parking Lot to capture items that need deeper discussion after this meeting is over.
To keep this portion of the meeting fresh, I’ve started rotating the order of the team presentations. This ensures that people are on their toes and not checking out until it is their time to speak, and if for some reason, one of the discussions goes longer than planned (which sometimes can happen even with the timer!), the same teams aren’t always getting short-changed on time.
Specific Agenda Items - Professional Development or Collaboration
The next portion of your monthly management team meeting is for specific agenda topics that will likely change from month to month. If you have a longer meeting time set aside, you might be able to tackle a couple of topics, but for a meeting that runs a few hours, you should only select one. This is the portion of the meeting for your managers to either participate in a professional development learning session or work together to solve a problem.
If you are using the time for professional development, here are some key insights to help you plan productive time:
- Begin with the end in mind. What is the business result you are trying to improve through this learning experience? Use your professional development budget wisely, and ensure you are choosing topics that will impact your business results in a positive way.
- Consider bringing in an expert. If you have the budget for it, there are wonderful leadership development programs and professional facilitators who can take some of the hard work off your hands.
- Design the experience carefully. Think about the time you have, who is in the room, and your learning objectives. Don’t try to cram a three hour workshop into an hour and a half. Don’t plan a sales-specific training that everyone has to go to (unless the goal is to get everyone in the company selling).
- Plan for feedback and follow up. Your leaders will synthesize and apply the learning only if you have a plan for follow up. It can’t be a one-time learning event; for the professional development to be effective, you need a plan for application of the key learning and accountability for the business results you are trying to move. Get feedback after the meeting, and have an expectation that each leader follow up with a manager or peer; or have a separate formal follow up process, even if it is just to have each person briefly report on what they applied from the training in the next monthly management meeting.
If you are going to spend this time collaborating or solving a problem, here are some considerations:
- Start with a clear objective. What problem are you trying to solve? What discussion do you need to have, and what is the desired outcome? Are you making a decision? Are you gathering information for someone on the team to take away so they can decide? Are you getting feedback or collecting ideas for future consideration? Be clear about what the time is being used for so nobody walks away feeling frustrated or that the time was wasted.
- Send prep work. Some people are good on their feet, but usually if you want to get some good work done in a short period of time, you need to get people thinking about the problem before they come in the room. Send out a Start-Stop-Keep, or just let people know you are planning to brainstorm “20 ways to solve X” so they should come with their top 1-2 ideas ready to share with the team.
- Set some ground rules for the discussion. Consider the set up. Do you have any team members participating virtually? If so, establishing ground rules for how you’ll include them is very important. In the heat of the moment, it can be tempting to have people in the room throwing out ideas, talking over each other, etc., and that doesn’t allow for virtual team members to join in. The same is true of using collaboration tools like sticky notes and flip charts - those are great for capturing ideas when everyone is together, but you need a different tool when some team members are remote. Setting rules like virtual team members share first, or using a “talking stick” to ensure only one person speaks at a time, or even pulling in a brainstorming tool like the 6 Thinking Hats to bring some structure can be helpful.
At the end of the meeting, always take a moment to close things out. Your note-taker might share the Actions or who-what-whens that came from the discussion, and you might want to review what’s left in your Parking Lot and decide when those items will be handled (decide who will meet to discuss each topic and when, for example.)
You might end by asking each person to share a key takeaway or something they learned. If you are short on time, a simple one-word or one-phrase from each person about how they are feeling at the end of the meeting would work. The purpose of closing the meeting is to give everyone a final opportunity to be heard and to crystalize what they've gained or learned from the day.
Another great way to end the meeting is by asking for feedback on the meeting itself. You could ask people to share one thing they would keep about the meeting format and one thing they would start doing differently next time. Having the team give feedback about the meeting will help ensure you are meeting your goal of having a productive monthly management team meeting.
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