When Leadership Teams Need a Good Referee

For the past 7 years I’ve spent an increasing amount of my time in the role of “facilitator” at a variety of leadership meetings that my clients have asked me to help “referee.”  When I initially got these requests I found it puzzling – why would a CEO or President want a third-party, like me, to play a role in a key strategy or planning meeting? 

What I’ve learned since is telling – my core competency is often their big challenge.  On one hand, these executives know their businesses, are often brilliant strategists, and know how to out-flank their competition.  On the other hand, when it comes to conducting an effective meeting with their leadership team, they often feel like a fish out of water.  You’ve likely been a part of some internal leadership meetings in your past that have been frustrating, at best.  Do any of these sound familiar?

  • The meeting took twice as long as the time that was allocated and it still felt as though little was accomplished?
  • There was a robust discussion but there were no tangible outcomes – no action items, no accountability, no follow up plans?
  • The discussion became emotional and off-the-subject because personalities and distractions got in the way of the core topics and objectives?
  • Or, the meeting itself was so unstructured and aimless that you felt like it was a complete waste of your time?

In case you think you’re the only victim in this phenomenon, your CEO/President is often equally frustrated by these experiences.  The feedback I hear from this group includes:

  • “I spend all of my time being a task-master and slave to the agenda instead of having valuable time to talk about what really matters in our business.”
  • “I feel like my team doesn’t really open up about what’s on their mind.”
  • “It’s frustrating that I don’t get to contribute to the discussion because when I do impose my opinions it tends to stifle the discussion.”
  • “Too often I have to play the bad guy in these meetings – challenging our assumptions, asking the hard questions, etc.”

I think you get the idea. When the CEO/leader has to lead the meeting they have to play a different role than they often prefer and they can’t contribute to the extent they’d like. All of this combines to create frustration on all sides – and why this part of my business is growing faster than any other.  

I know what you worry about with this strategy – “I need to control the meeting outcome and I fear losing that control.”  It’s a reasonable concern.  Let me take a swing at explaining why it may make sense for you to engage an outside facilitator for your next leadership meeting and still maintain the control you’re concerned about losing:

  • Preparation can make all the difference – I usually have an opportunity to interview the key stakeholders in advance of the meeting – to understand their view of the key issues and priorities. On a side note – the candid feedback the team members will tell me that they often won’t even tell the CEO/Leader directly is often surprising.
  • Take the pressure off of yourself – you are the leader and are infinitely more effective if you are part of the discussion, not trying to lead and control the discussion.  Let someone with facilitation-related skills, who does this as a core competency, play this role
  • You are more likely to accomplish the meeting/workshop objectives within the targeted goal – on time, on budget, and outcome-focused when a third party is tasked to ensure these objectives are met. 
  • And finally, because someone like me doesn’t have to manage your team on an on-going, everyday basis, it’s actually very comfortable for us to ask challenging questions and to bring an outside perspective to the discussion.  Said another way, let me be the bad guy occasionally. 

It’s seems like such a simple idea and it really isn’t that complicated.  If your team is struggling with having effective leadership meetings with tangible plans and priorities to be successful, consider the value of having a third-party facilitator help with your next key leadership strategy meeting – you and your team will benefit when it’s done well.

I look forward to your comments and feedback!

Posted in Sales.

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