An Advance is not a Retreat

Leadership teams at all levels have a lot of meetings, many if not most of them important and necessary.  Some are operational, report-out meetings that measure bi-weekly or quarterly performance against targets and allow the tactical shifts necessary to make their numbers, address issues that arise, and allow for enough operational agility to deal with changes in the external and internal environments.  Other meetings are briefings – information exchanges designed to keep everyone on the same page about enterprise and organizational shifts.  There are no shortage of meetings in Corporate America.

The “Advance” is a different sort of animal.  It is dialogue-driven, strategically focused, and often quite personal.  We call it an “Advance” for a reason:  It is focused on the Now and the New – on the powerful present and the ever-present future.  It is relevant, pragmatic, and honest – an exercise in aligning and utilizing the collective intelligence of the senior team.  And given that the real commodity of senior leaders is time, an Advance has to be thought of as something different – as essential, and unique. 

It is a different sort of meeting.  It is agenda-driven, but lightly so as the direction of the meeting follows what is most important to talk about and is steered by the energy in the room.  It begins by asking the question “What, if anything, has changed and how does that impact our strategic direction and critical priorities?”  This question is especially important in this time of increased complexity, speed of change, and global connectedness.

Our bias is that any Advance of one to two days should contain several essential components that deserve honest and real dialogue:

  1. A thorough exploration or confirmation of the company or divisional strategy.  What, if anything has changed?  How does this impact our priorities?
  2. Dialogue about any issues that must be addressed and resolved.  This can involve deep discussion about team dynamics, issues of structure, turf, and collaboration.  And issues between team members.  Silence is not an option and never constitutes real agreement.
  3. Dialogue about how we are working as a team.  What are we doing well, and what can we do to raise the bar?  Dialogue about our teams – how are they collaborating and operating together 1-3 levels down?  And how can this be even better?
  4. Dialogue about growth and innovation.  What possibilities and options exist?  What is going on with our competitors and out there in the big world?
  5. How can we improve as individual leaders? This is an opportunity for leadership development both individually and collectively.  And it is absolutely a critical question to ask.
  6. How do we develop and grow our teams and our people?  This is a key area as increased collaboration and competency one and two levels down frees up the senior team to be more strategic and to think together.
  7. And lastly and always - an “after action review” (AAR) that measures the quality of the meeting and how to raise the bar over time.

This Advance should be thought of as special time and should be held, typically off-site, every quarter. Teams that are in significant change, new teams, and teams with new leadership may require more frequent meetings. It is a mandatory meeting, with clear and agreed rules of the road about participation, listening, confidentiality, and distractions.  The key here is open and honest dialogue about the stuff that matters the most.