Anyone in a growing business has had the displeasure of being stuck in an unproductive meeting. At best, they happen from time to time. At worst, the day is so filled with unproductive meetings that it seems like there’s no time left to actually get anything done… leading many to want to just eschew internal team meetings altogether.
Yet the reality is that done well, meetings can be a mechanism to keep your team on the same page, working towards the right priorities, accountable on a weekly basis to getting things done, and provide a crucial opportunity for everyone to work together on solving the business’s biggest challenges from week to week.
Accordingly, the real problem is not that “(team) meetings are bad”, but that “bad (team) meetings are bad”, and that the remedy is to formulate a better structure to the weekly team staff meeting in the first place, with time to review key business data, evaluate the tasks that need to be done, prioritize for the coming week, and then take more than half the meeting time to actually solve problems that are occurring in the business!
Personally, I’ll admit that I was a long-time skeptic of having a weekly team staff meeting – having spent an incalculable amount of my own time in unproductive meetings over the years! – but have ultimately found that the pulse of the weekly team meeting really does become the heartbeat of the business as it moves forward!
Bad Team Staff Meetings Are Bad
In a growing business, meetings are an inevitable reality. Whether it’s the coming together of an entire leadership team, the gathering of the key players in a particular department, or simply a two-person meeting with an advisor and his/her planning associate, meetings happen. And the larger the business, the more plentiful the meetings tend to be, as there are more people to coordinate amongst and maintain communication with. Throw in some meetings for outside activities and volunteer efforts, and you may reach the point where it feels like you spend more time in meetings about what to do, than actually getting anything done!
Yet while many financial advisors ultimately push back on this “Death By Meeting” feeling by trying to eschew meetings altogether, arguably the real problem is not that there are so many meetings, but the fact that they’re so unproductive. In other words, the problem isn’t necessarily having meetings. It’s having bad meetings.
After all, meetings at their most basic level are simply about facilitating communication and problem-solving, which are clearly relevant for any business that has more than one person in the first place. And the added virtue of regular meetings is that they can actually become a concrete deadline for ongoing projects, and a point of accountability to ensure that things really are getting done. In addition to being a means of keeping everyone on the same page about the key metrics of the business, and whether it's growing and moving forward.
In fact, leading entrepreneur expert Gino Wickman makes the case in his book “Traction” that one of the most common problems for businesses is their lack of effective weekly team/staff meetings. The end result is at best wasted time, and at worst a business that literally can’t get the "traction" to move forward on its goals. Because it’s actually the pulse of the weekly meeting, and the shared vision, problem-solving, and accountability that it creates, which helps ensure a team is moving forward on its goals!
Setting A Weekly Staff Meeting Agenda
As a starting template, Wickman suggests a structured 90-minute weekly staff meeting agenda to provide the key aspects of both problem-solving, and accountability. The 7-item standing agenda is shown to the right.
In this process, the segue is simply the quick kick-off to the meeting, to get everyone mentally focused. It might include a quick check-in – “how’s everyone doing today?” – and ideally includes giving all participants a moment to share something positive to get the meeting started on a good note.
From there, the next step is to review the scorecard, a summary of the key data or metrics for the business. It’s literally meant to be the “scorecard” of how the business is performing. In an advisory firm context, this might include key metrics like the number of new and lost clients (or assets, or revenue) for the month or quarter, the number of client meetings you’ve had, the number of client financial plans you’re working on, the number of prospects in your sales pipeline, or the number of transfers your staff are processing. Whatever the Key Performance Indicator (KPI) metrics are that help you know as a financial advisor where the business stands. (And if you aren’t tracking this data, now’s the time to start building out your KPI dashboard!) You might even come up with a basic color coding system – green, yellow, and red – to highlight metrics that are good and healthy, in the warning zone, or that are concerning and need attention.
The third step in Wickman’s weekly meeting is the rocks review. In this context, “rocks” is a reference to the famous Stephen Covey analogy that in order to effectively fill your time, you need to place the big “rocks” (major priorities) first, then fill in the pebbles (small tasks), and finally the sand (daily drumbeat of minutia). Because if you place the rocks in your bucket first, there’s room to fill in the pebbles and sand around them. If you fill the bucket with pebbles and sand first - and let the business get buried in the minutia - the bucket is already full and there’s no way to get the rocks in. Accordingly, for an effective team meeting, everyone should know what their “rocks” are for the week/month/quarter, and be able to quickly report out whether they’re on track to complete (or not).
Next is the time to review any client/employee headlines – notable news that anyone on the team wishes to share, either about interactions with the firm’s clients, or other staff members. This could be pointing out something good (a client had a good service experience), a problem to be aware of (a staff member is unhappy with the new vacation policy), or simply something noteworthy (a key employee is having a 10-year anniversary!).
The To-Do list section of the meeting is the chance to review the status of the prior week’s action items. Because these are intended to be reviewed (and usually completed) weekly, they should be small and bite-sized. (A large project that could take a month or quarter to complete should be treated as a Rock, not a to-do.) The primary purpose of this section of the meeting is not to re-hash the details of each To-Do list item, but simply to affirm whether they’re done or not. If not, they should get done the following week. If it can’t be done because there’s a bigger issue, that can be discussed later (in the next section of the meeting). This is the essence of holding everyone on the team accountable to the team for completing what they committed to complete in the prior week’s meeting! (Think about how much more effective your organization would be if everyone simply got done every week the stuff they said they would do every week!)
Once all of these “minor” sections of the meeting have been completed, Wickman suggests that the focus should be on IDS, an acronym for Identify, Discuss, and Solve problems. In other words, this is the part of the meeting where everyone on the team comes together to actually resolve any issues that have arisen in the prior stages of the meeting. Notably, the first step to the IDS phase is simply identifying, not just what the issues are, but which are the most important, given that a growing business may easily have more issues to resolve than there is time in the meeting to solve. By prioritizing which are the most crucial to tackle first, by definition the team will be solving the most important problems first (and often solving big problems makes other problems go away altogether, as small issues often turn out to have been byproducts of the big issue). This may lead to more To-Do list items to be tackled for the following week, and some Issues that get carried forward to the following week’s IDS phase (but only those that weren’t deemed important enough to be resolved in the current week!). In the advisory context, this could be figuring out a problem in some new software, onboarding a new employee, handling a complex client problem, or brainstorming how to fix a process that isn't working.
The conclusion of the weekly meeting should recap the To-Do list items that were assigned for the following week, any unresolved Issues that may carry over to the following week’s IDS phase, and a brief discussion about whether anything needs to be communicated coming out of the meeting (e.g., a message to a particular client, a new initiative to all clients, a new policy to be communicated to staff members).
Notably, the total breakdown of Wickman’s weekly meeting template includes a mere 30 minutes on 6 of the 7 phases of the meeting, and 60 minutes for the IDS phase, where the team problem-solving actually occurs. In other words, the meeting is 1/3rd communication and accountability, and 2/3rds problem-solving. And this balance is deliberate, as the number one failing for most meetings is the feeling that nothing is actually getting done, while this approach is designed to allocate the bulk of the time to getting things done!
My Journey Of Starting A Weekly Team Meeting Process
Personally, I will admit that I long resisted adopting a formal weekly meeting process myself. Having sat in on an incalculable number of unproductive meetings, to say the least I was not eager to voluntarily institute yet another regular meeting upon myself (and my team)!
Yet ultimately, having finally made the transition myself, I will have to confess I see the power of having a standing weekly team meeting. Although I personally haven’t adopted quite the weekly meeting template that Wickman advocates, my own standing team meeting agenda is:
- Review Weekly (and Monthly) Business Data
- Review Task List
- Weekly To-Dos (clients, internal business projects, etc.)
- Monthly Projects (my “Rocks”)
- Reprioritize for the upcoming week
- Other Business/Staff Issues
The meetings are scheduled for an hour, and although I don’t specifically articulate it in my staff meeting agenda, the bulk of the time is really spent not just reviewing the task list per se but actually digging into ‘problematic’ To-Do items (or Monthly Projects) and figuring out how to solve them. Thus, it seems I unwittingly evolved my own weekly meeting agenda to have the heavy component of problem solving that Wickman advocates (and is perhaps why I’ve felt like the meetings have been very productive!). In fact, the whole experience – and Wickman’s book – has made me realize in retrospect that the primary problem with most meetings is that they leave no time for actual problem-solving, usually because the whole meeting is spent on just communication and reporting... or simply because no one actually brought a substantive issue to the meeting with the intention of getting it solved! (Ever gotten to the end of a meeting and felt like the meeting was a waste because there was nothing substantive to actually talk about at the meeting? Exactly!)
Notably, the data tracking comes directly from our business software (and some light massaging of the data in an Excel spreadsheet), and the weekly To-Dos and prioritizing comes from our team’s task management software (e.g., CRM or project management tools). As the weekly meeting process has become habit, some meetings we’ll actually take a few minutes just to focus on how to make it easier to prepare the standard reporting for the meeting. We've also been working on automating the reporting of some of our key business metrics.
In addition, I would point out that personally, I’ve found the process of “re-prioritizing” for the upcoming week to be one of the most essential and valuable parts of the weekly team meeting, to stay on target. For a rapidly growing and iterating business – and a bit of a strategic thinker always seeing new ideas and business opportunities – the reality is that sometimes, new opportunities supplant ‘old’ action items and initiatives lingering on our weekly or monthly to-do list. By taking a few minutes every week (usually no more than 5 minutes total) to redirect the team on what they should be prioritizing this week, I can ensure that we’re always working on whatever I truly believe is the highest and best use of the team’s time every week.
Tips For Adopting Your Own Weekly Meeting Process
Ultimately, you may decide to precisely adopt Wickman’s Weekly Meeting Agenda, or instead may decide to craft your own. Whatever your path, I would make the case that the four core areas that have to be covered are:
- Data Reporting. What are the Key Performance Indicators for your advisory business? And if you’re not sure, start tracking a few (e.g., new clients, new AUM/revenue, lost clients, prospect meetings, etc.) and adjust based on whether you're finding them meaningful to regularly report for a period of time. Having a regular weekly meeting process to look at this data will help quickly accentuate whether it’s relevant, or if not what may actually be relevant, and will drive you to refine a process to get the data easily.
- To-Dos. This is crucial for accountability and ensuring things are actually getting done. What were the tasks from last week, which ones are getting checked off (most of them hopefully!), which are getting carried over, and what are the new ones to add. Ideally this comes directly from the assigned tasks in the task management/workflows from your CRM, but at a minimum, keep track of key To-Dos separately, just so you can report on them at the weekly team meeting!
- Prioritize. For me, this is about ensuring that the team is working on whatever is truly most important for the week (which varies from week to week as some projects are paused and revisited later). From Wickman’s perspective, this is where you renew your focus on the Rocks that have to get done in the current month or quarter, to ensure the business is moving forward on its big objectives.
- Problem-Solve. Leave time – a lot of time – in each weekly meeting to actually solve whatever issues have cropped up in trying to execute last week’s To-Dos, and preparing for the upcoming week’s priorities items, as well as responding to any data tracking that was concerning. If you follow Wickman’s rule, this should be 2/3rds of your total meeting time!
In addition, one of the biggest keys to the success of the weekly team meeting is scheduling it at a fixed time, and making it a commitment for everyone on the team to honor that team meeting time every week. Our weekly meetings are at 10:30AM on Monday mornings – enough time for everyone to get oriented at the beginning of the day (including preparing the meeting agenda and the weekly data reporting), before diving in to discuss the upcoming week’s activity and obligations. In my case, this was part of my broader personal initiative to regain better control of my time and schedule by crafting a more rigorously structured “standard” weekly meeting schedule.
Beyond just helping for scheduling and time management purposes, though, the real value of having a standing weekly meeting is that it forms the basis for your team’s accountability in the first place. When “everyone knows” that the weekly meeting is coming, and required, and that everyone will be held accountable to their To-Do items in the meeting, it becomes a crucial mechanism for accountability. In other words, the weekly meeting becomes the weekly deadline for weekly tasks… and there’s nothing like a deadline to ensure that things get done!
In the meantime, if you’re looking for more ideas about how to gain momentum in your business, especially if you’ve reached the point of multiple team members (and especially multiple partners) and feel like the business is spinning its wheels with effort but not making much traction, I highly recommend Wickman’s entire “Traction” book, which provides a whole “Entrepreneurial Operating System” (EOS) blueprint to give your business more structure and help it gain some traction.
So what do you think? Do you use a weekly team meeting structure? When do you meet? How do you handle your weekly agenda? Please share your own experiences and thoughts in the comments below!