Here’s how to make key leadership meetings more meaningful

As business heads contemplate on industry trends and begin to look at what’s in store in their industry for 2022, now is the time to get executive leadership members on the calendar for some exciting brainstorming sessions that will keep the company ahead and move it in the right direction.

Some simple and out-of-the-box thinking may spark more productive conversations, support smarter strategic planning, and get fellow colleagues excited about the collaborative process in the year to come. That’s why 15 expert panelists from Fast Company Executive Board are sharing creative ideas to make a memorable impression at your forthcoming meetings that will provide the most value for all.

1. INVITE THE RIGHT PEOPLE.

My biggest advice is to include the right leaders in the meetings. Some companies only invite the VP, SVP, EVP, and chiefs to these sessions. Innovative companies include the true change-makers, those who inspire teams, drive real change, and ignite new products, services, or operational innovations. Regardless of format, from company surveys to facilitated workshops, field trips, and more, give the right people a seat at the table. – Val Vacante, LiveArea, a Merkle Company

2. CULTIVATE A CREATIVE ENVIRONMENT.

The best way to bring all of an organization’s key leaders together is to set up a meeting in a creative environment that will allow them to come up with strategies—through that environment—that will push the company forward. Having this meeting at an offsite location, away from the office, is the best thing you can do. Find a place that allows the key leaders to get creative! – Martin Rowinski, Boardsi

3. MIX THINGS UP.

If your “key leaders” are the only ones at your company that can come up with new ideas, then you have a pretty sad company. If you are looking for creativity, you have to mix things up and put people together who don’t spend every other day working together. Strategic sessions can include folks of all ranks as well as perhaps advisors, vendors, or customers. – Alex Husted, HELPSY

4. TAKE IT TO THE STREETS.

Let’s take everyone to the street because boring meetings are overrated, and the real consumer is on the street. I’ve been doing this with companies from all over the world, and the results are simply amazing because instead of assuming, they can observe, ask, and understand challenges in real-time. PowerPoint is great for meetings, but spending time in the street, to engage with your consumers directly, is amazing forever. Plan your meetings on the street. – Fernando Anzures, EXMA Global

5. BREAK BREAD TOGETHER.

Cook a meal together and then enjoy it with some good wine. It’s interactive, creative, and gets people out of their usual roles and the hierarchy. It also lets people show new skills (or learning needs!) and gets them out of their comfort zones—which can be a good thing. Most of all, it can be fun. – Amy Radin, Pragmatic Innovation Partners LLC

6. CREATE A THEME-BASED EXPERIENCE.

Start each meeting with an experience that is unique and memorable, and one that fosters a strong sense of connection and trust between the leaders. Choose the experience based on a theme that is reflective of the strategic conversations you aspire to have right after. Try firewalking or ziplining to foster fearless leadership, visit a museum to foster creativity, or help a charity to fuel compassion. – Andreea Vanacker, SPARKX5

7. MAKE SURE CONTENT IS RELEVANT.

Ensuring alignment is the most important component of a leadership meeting. The content should be mapped out for relevancy to the scope of the attendees. Too often, teams build agendas that are not applicable to all attendees. These meetings should set the tone for focus and execution after the meeting finishes. It all starts with securing a tight agenda that includes a built-in time for open discussion and ensuring that the content fits. – Kermit Randa

8. BUILD A COLLECTIVE.

Offsite retreats and catered dinners may be fun, but how you conduct a meeting is what determines its productivity. A great way to drive strategic conversations in these meetings is to physically (or virtually) build something, such as a brainstormed list, graphic, model, etc. A collaborative, hands-on task inspires full-team engagement, creating space for more creative and productive outcomes. – Bilal Aijazi, Polly

9. MAKE MEMBERSHIP A PRIVILEGE.

Start by making membership in the group feel like a privilege. Make active participation expected and required. Next, utilize strong facilitation techniques. Have a clear purpose for the event, communicate expectations, and have a dedicated facilitator. Finally, establish a meeting culture of safety, vulnerability, and familiarity to tap into the genius and uniqueness of each leader. – Steve Dion, Dion Leadership

10. ENLIST A FACILITATOR.

A great way for leaders to become more familiar and engage with one another is through a council meeting that is navigated with the help of a facilitator. With their help, meetings don’t lose their meaning, and conversations and activities remain constructive and organized. This can be established as an effective tool in yearly, well-ordered meetings that can be close-knit yet very productive. – Irfan Khan, CLOUDSUFI

11. GO OFF THE GRID.

Find a meeting location that is a bit “off the grid” and away from distractions. Schedule a weekend, or a few days, at a remote cabin and spread the meetings out so you can intersperse business time with casual time to enjoy different activities. Don’t overplan and overschedule, just have lots of options. This setting allows for walls to be lowered, so barriers will be greatly reduced. – Christopher Tompkins, The Go! Agency

12. HAVE FUN AND RELAX TO REDUCE STRESS.

Creativity comes from thinking in a relaxed and playful manner. So, to get leaders together in a way that creates new ideas and momentum in the business, I’d hold a fun gathering with very little pressure. Meeting at a relaxed location and having games will help people enjoy their time and reduce stress. This creates a good mood that’ll result in better conversations. – Syed Balkhi, WPBeginner

13. SWAP ROLES TO GAIN A BETTER UNDERSTANDING.

We have our leaders prepare as if they are in a different leadership position. In other words, our VP of sales prepares for the strategy session as if he is our VP of operations. Our VP of operations prepares as if she is the CMO. Our CMO prepares as if he’s our director of finance. We come prepared to defend someone else’s turf. – Meagan Bowman, STOPWATCH

14. DO SOME SOCIAL BRAINSTORMING.

There has to be a realistic expectation of time commitments from the leaders and an understanding that bringing people together for strategy sessions is a blend of business and social. Leaders want to come together to collaborate and brainstorm with colleagues but they also want to socialize with one another. Often the socialization aspect will spawn great ideas for the next morning’s strategy session. – Amanda Dorenberg, COMMB

15. TAKE IN SOME FRESH AIR.

Gathering and inviting leaders into a mastermind group here in the heart of Hawaii would be on the top of my mind, as the pandemic has inhibited us from traveling. But nothing beats a mixture of island vibe when exchanging meaningful conversations. There’s fresh air, gentle waves, and a combination of green-blue scenery. Truly a breath of fresh air will help in stimulating one’s mind. – Lane Kawaoka, SimplePassiveCashflow.com

Give the right leaders a creative space to help move your organization forward in the new year.

Click here to read the full article on Fast Company.

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