Prioritize Preparing for Internal Meetings. Your Team Will Thank You for It

By Ryan Flynn

How much time did you spend preparing for the last meeting with your team?

If you’re like most leaders, you may have considered the agenda in advance and touched base with a chief of staff or a trusted thought partner for a pulse check…and that’s it. Perhaps you simply clicked join and “did it live.” Either way, it’s likely you missed an opportunity to fully maximize one of the highest leverage activities you have as a leader. It’s not uncommon for internal team meetings to get deprioritized because they are often the lowest stress component of our operating rhythm, with impact (and risk) that’s harder to see than a sales pitch, board meeting, or investor call. But with shorter, virtual meetings the primary method of connection for so many teams now, this is a huge mistake.

While meeting times have increased by upwards of 10% since the shift to hybrid and remote work, according to data from Microsoft, research has shown an uptick in meetings can have a negative effect on employee productivity and happiness.

Prioritize preparation. Whether it’s Amazon’s “Memo Culture,” Ford’s “Business Plan Review,” or, yes, Stan McChrystal’s “Operations & Intelligence Forum,” ideas of the best way to run effective meetings have long been front and center in management theory. However, one of the critical elements underpinning these approaches, and others, is something that’s rarely discussed – the importance of a leader investing the time to properly prepare for the meeting.

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Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. Two of the most effective leaders we’ve observed have consistently invested two or more hours preparing ahead of an organization-wide, bi-weekly call for the past six years. This call pulls together their global investment bank of more than 500 professionals to energize their primary value proposition to clients — the active and intentional sharing of client-relevant market intelligence across their firm. During a preparation call, mid-level professionals from various geographical and specialty teams review the insights they plan to share on the organization-wide call and are challenged by senior leadership to take a more global perspective and proactively connect the dots. Not only does this coach high-potential teammates, it also ensures an incredibly focused and valuable 60-minute call with the wider organization that people prioritize attending.

Data shows it will help your team be more effective. Across the more than 100 organizations we’ve studied, employees who say their teams’ internal meetings are productive are nearly twice as likely to agree that the actions their team takes balance short-term requirements with long-term objectives. The benefit of this is obvious at a small team level, yet it's even more pronounced and can drive differentiated results when true across an organization.

In the case of the investment bank, preparation by the leaders enables their team to bring powerful insights to the thousands of client meetings that will happen across their firm over the following two weeks. Over time the impact has been even greater, as they have cultivated a more robust and dynamic network across the firm that connects without their direct involvement to the benefit of their clients.

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Figure 1 (Left): Initial analysis revealed a network that didn’t match the leaders’ vision for how to best serve their clients at scale — they were overly reliant on a few key individuals as the core of the network, and teams were loosely connected. Figure 2 (Right): Following two years of weekly focus by leadership in a high-quality firmwide forum, analysis showed the desired outcome — a team tightly connected and sharing valuable intelligence across levels and geographies.

In our experience, leaders who uniquely maximize the impact of their time with teams (large or small) consistently ask themselves three questions as they prepare:

  1. How am I going to intentionally reinforce priorities that may not be top of mind? What you choose to focus on in team meetings is one of the clearest indications of your priorities in practice, regardless of what may have been stated via other means. Ensure that the topics discussed and the time allocated to each reflect how you want your team to choose to prioritize their own time and energy.
  2. How can I coach and encourage the behaviors I need my team practicing when I’m not there? Use time with your team to highlight individuals or teams that did something that is representative of the way-of-working that will accelerate your goals. Did a sales leader engage an enabling specialist from a priority product line in a customer meeting? If so, ask them to tell that story, describing what they learned and what new value was delivered to the customer to build awareness of, and trust in, that enabling team.
  3. Is the content, cadence, and participant list of this meeting still fit-for-purpose? Your team’s operating rhythm should constantly adapt as your team evolves and the environment changes. If you’re bringing a leadership team together following a reorganization, you likely need to come together more frequently, for longer, than if you’ve worked together for years. If you’re tackling a new, cross-functional initiative, it may make sense to invite some partners from another line of business, and then disinvite them when the initiative is well embedded. We often see leadership teams benefit from inviting individuals from deeper in the organization than may have traditionally been included, quickly driving alignment and important context closer to the point of action.

Start small. Consider picking two high-impact components of your operating rhythm and committing to an extra 30 minutes of preparation for the next four weeks. Ask yourself the questions above and reach out to an influential attendee and brainstorm ways you can better leverage the time you have with your team or stakeholder group. You’ll quickly see the exponential impact your investment of time can have.

Visit our Great Prioritization resources page for more actional tools and insights.

Ryan Flynn

Partner

Ryan Flynn is a Partner at McChrystal Group, where he develops partnerships that leverage McChrystal Groups' unique capabilities and skillsets to help executives solve their most complex leadership challenges.

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