Your leadership team shapes your organization’s mission and culture. So if you want to track the key decisions that determine the progress of your company, look no further than your weekly or bi-weekly leadership meetings.
Your leadership team meetings (sometimes called "staff meetings") will look different depending on the size of your organization. Executive teams at startups may have more fires to put out and quick decisions to make than teams at larger companies, who can spend more time on long-term priorities and delegation.
Topics covered in leadership meetings
Leadership team meetings often cover these agenda items:
Problems/decisions to tackle (team issues, product issues, etc.)
Business opportunities (hiring, areas to focus on and plan for)
Learnings and feedback
Depending on your priorities, you may spend more or less time discussing each topic or introducing new ones. You’ll want to stay consistent with the topics you cover at your leadership meetings while being flexible enough to recognize when your format needs tweaking.
Whether you’re a new CEO starting from scratch or a seasoned executive who wants more out of your leadership meetings, here's a step-by-step process for running your next exec meeting.
Step 1: Find topic ideas that matter to your team
First, an important rule: Never fill a leadership meeting with status updates. Status updates are rarely relevant for most members of the team. And where there’s a drop-off in relevance, there’s a drop-off in engagement.
Instead, make the most of your time together by focusing on topics that benefit from a group discussion.
In plenty of cases, those topics will come directly from the larger team. Great leaders listen — really listen! — to their direct reports and act on what they’ve heard.
When you have effective one-on-one meetings with team members, you’ll learn:
What’s working and what’s not
The opportunities that excite them
The problems they want to solve
As you listen to your team members, you’ll notice when topics intersect and become pressing. Your leadership meeting agenda should reflect the most impactful topics that affect the most members of your leadership team.
💡 Idea: For your next leadership meeting, collect a list of potential topics ahead of time from your team (a shared doc is perfect for this!). Then prioritize agenda items on a graph by mapping two data points: the number of leadership team members affected by the topic and the potential impact on the organization.
One is the least impactful on the organization, ten is the most. Prioritize items on the upper-right corner of the graph.
Step 2: Prepare a great agenda every time
After you prioritize your list of topics, you’re ready to put them into your leadership meeting agenda.
Your agenda may change depending on where you are in the quarter. If you’re nearing the end of the quarter, you may want to focus on reviewing metrics and discussing how you’ll push to reach your goals. If you’re at the beginning of the quarter, you may want to focus on new opportunities and removing roadblocks for the months ahead.
Here are some sample agendas to try depending on your needs:
> Leadership team meeting agenda template by Shawn Kent Hayashi
This agenda, adapted from the video below, covers:
Celebrations: Personal or professional
Accountabilities: Metrics review
Upcoming milestones: Opportunities within the next 90 days
Headlines: Customer and staff issues
Problems: Issues listed by priority (gathered from a list)
Optional: Learning and development
> Weekly team meeting agenda template by Verne Harnish
This super-adaptable agenda covers:
Good news (5 minutes)
Priorities/metrics (10 minutes)
Customer/employee feedback (10 minutes)
1-2 key topics as decided by the team (30-60 minutes)
Action items (5 minutes)
> Product team meeting agenda template by Andy Johns
While this agenda is product team-focused, the format can be used for leadership meetings, especially ones that focus on decisions.
Action items review (10 minutes)
Decisions to make/questions to address, as collected before the meeting (45-50 minutes)
Decision log - what decisions require more time to figure out? (5 minutes)
Step 3: Set expectations for pre-meeting work
Set your agenda for the leadership team meeting three to five days in advance. This will help you set expectations about who needs to prepare what for the meeting to run smoothly.
After you set your agenda, run through your list and identify:
✅ Material to review
✅ Metrics needed
✅ Presentation slides required
When you send the agenda, include action items for each team member before the meeting. Some team members may only need to read certain briefs or documents so they’re attending the meeting with what they need to contribute to the discussion. Other team members may need to gather performance metrics or draft presentation slides.
Keep pre-meeting work manageable for your team, but make sure to stress the importance of preparation so that your meeting is productive and runs on time.
Step 4: Run the meeting on a tight schedule
You’ve been there: You’re in a meeting, your team won’t stop swirling around the same topic, and nothing is resolved. You leave the meeting, and you realize your team didn’t talk about half of what was on the agenda.
Don’t be afraid to use an agenda timer to avoid this situation. Assign the role of moderator and permit that person to cut the conversation short if you’re running short on time. When this happens, identify a decision-maker to own the next steps for that item beyond the meeting.
Agenda timers in Vowel make it easy to set time limits for all your topics.
The moderator’s second role is to make sure everyone contributes to the meeting. Extroverts tend to dominate conversations while introverts with great ideas may be more reluctant to speak up. Your moderator should take note of whose opinion is missing from the discussion so they can seek all perspectives during the meeting.
Tip: Use meeting software to track each attendee’s share of voice during the meeting (Vowel does this!). Real-time data will make it easier for your moderator to identify whose perspective may be missing from the discussion.
Step 5: Capture decisions and action items together
Meeting notes may not be sexy, but they're one of the most important things you can master to increase productivity.
You already have a template for taking notes: your agenda. Use it to take shared notes as the meeting moves forward or assign a note-taker.
Use the quadrant method to take meeting notes. It breaks any meeting into four categories:
Questions: As you reach the end of each topic, make sure to either answer all questions or assign the answer to someone who can get it.
Notes: Only write down important insights, goals, ideas, and decisions.
Personal action items: List action items and next steps that you're responsible for delivering.
Team action items: List action items for other people at the meeting, or items you need to pass on to others who aren't there. *Note: Feel free to combine action items into one section, like we do here at Vowel when taking shared notes.
Collaborative notes in Vowel
As you’re nearing the end of the meeting, review the action items and clarify an owner for each. At your next meeting, you’ll review what was done and what’s blocked.
Step 6: Leave time for planning and review
To make the next agenda easier to put together, discuss items you’ll want to prioritize at your next meeting. This is important for creating continuity and accountability for each meeting, so you can create a record of progress as you move along in your work.
After you look forward, take a moment to look back at the meeting that just happened. Ask attendees to note any improvements that could have been made, like better information to prepare for the meeting or more time to discuss certain agenda items. If there wasn’t enough preparation time, for example, that’s your cue to send material earlier.
According to executive coach Shawn Kent Hayashi, “One of the a-ha moments that occurs early on is that people need to look at [an ongoing] issues list and be prepared to share their puzzle pieces, their thoughts, their perspective on it. It helps to train the culture of the organization that people are expected to speak up and share.”
Step 7: Run quarterly meeting retrospectives
Every quarter, take some extra time to check in with your leadership team about the meeting format itself. Do they still feel it’s productive? Does the cadence need to change? Is there anything that’s working especially well?
Once a quarter (at the beginning or end), add a section to the agenda that invites feedback using the following Start, Stop, Keep framework:
What should we start doing?
What should we stop doing?
What should we keep doing?
After you receive feedback, make revisions to your leadership meeting agenda format to reflect your tweaked format.
Bonus tip: Use Vowel to record and transcribe your leadership meetings
If you’re running a remote leadership team, you may want to lean on meeting transcription software to capture your team’s conversation.
It's a good idea to have a searchable record of what was discussed at these "brain trust" meetings, including video recordings, notes, transcripts, and action items. That way, when someone can’t attend — as is often the case for leadership team meetings — they’ll be able to look back and see a recap about what they missed.
Vowel can help! Learn more about how live transcription, instant recording, collaborative notes, and shareable clips can make your leadership meetings better.
You can also try Vowel for free with your Google account — no credit card required!