Why you need to ditch one-to-one meetings with your executive team
You’re the founder and CEO of a scaling business. As the company’s grown, you’ve assembled an Executive team to support you. Most of them have been promoted internally. But there’s one big problem. They’re completely reliant on you for the big decisions. It’s exhausting, and you’re being spread too thin.
We see this all the time in the businesses we coach. In the earlier part of its growth journey, the company operates like a hub and spoke. The CEO is the fount of all knowledge. The mentality is ‘always running this past the CEO for approval’. Then as they grow, this behaviour perpetuates. It’s how things are done and all the executive team has ever known.
As a result, accountability rests on your shoulders as CEO. And this is dangerous. It pulls you into the weeds, leaving little time for strategy. It also stops the Executive team from thinking independently and holding itself accountable.
There’s an easy solution that you could introduce right now. Ditch the Executive 1:1s. Yes. It’s that simple. Instead of 1:1s, introduce Executive Daily Huddles. Let’s explore why.
Shifting accountability to the Executive team
You want your Executive team to know instinctively that their primary loyalty is to each other. They need to start working as a high-functioning team – one that is capable of having the difficult conversations necessary to hold each other to commitments.
The other day, I was chatting to a CEO client about a member of his executive team. He wasn’t meeting his goals and had told the CEO that the reason was another team member who was preventing him from getting things done. He wanted the CEO to intervene. So the CEO said, ‘I’ve told him to go and speak to that person.’ But just through these conversations, it had become the CEO’s problem.
I pointed out that by having a third-party conversation about someone else, they were creating a cultural norm in the Executive team. It would perpetuate. And this was likely to happen because any difficult conversations only occurred in one-to-one meetings with the CEO. These conversations should have been at the team level.
Think for a moment about a sports team. They’ll sit down together and watch videos of the opposition. They don’t do this individually and then talk to the coach. They work out strategies and observations together and find the best way to tackle future games. They’re also completely accountable to each other for their performance.
Being smarter with your meetings
A typical executive meeting pattern is 1:1s with the CEO and weekly management meetings. But if you’re working to improve accountability, this will hinder you.
Often the weekly management meetings are anaemic. Another client recently described a dysfunctional Executive team that he’d just left. He said, ‘Dom – the weekly team meetings were terrible! Every member got given 20 minutes. They put together a load of PowerPoint slides and talked for 19 minutes about the status of their function. None of the other team members asked any difficult questions. They all filibustered their way through to avoid any meaningful questions from the CEO. And then they had another pointless meeting the following week.’
My advice if you’re in this situation? Switch the meetings. Ditch the 1:1s and ineffective management meetings and instead hold short daily huddles. No more than 15 minutes. Get the team used to discussing their progress with each other. Yes, there may be groans when you do this. I’ve yet to meet an Executive team that likes daily huddles. But in the teams that have successfully adopted this, there is a huge time saving and reduction in emails. And accountability starts to be owned by the team and not the CEO.
I’m not saying 1:1s should be abandoned entirely in the business. They have an important role further down the hierarchy. But stop doing them at an executive level.
CEO moves from referee to coach
Most entrepreneurial CEOs we coach find holding people to account difficult. They’re long on vision and short on process. And yet, their teams are the opposite. So they’re better equipped to hold each other accountable for the tasks. Too often, executives actively avoid conflict, and the CEO makes it easy for them by persisting with the 1:1 format.
This can lead to frustration. The CEO holds all the power because they’re doing all the 1:1s, and the weekly meetings are ineffectual. If you’ve got A-Players on the team (and I sincerely hope you do!), they’ll get increasingly annoyed at the lack of progress.
As CEO, your skills likely lie around the ‘Working Genius’ areas of ‘Invention’ and ‘Discernment’ and less around ‘Tenacity’ and ‘Enablement’. Perhaps you’re not into attention to detail. You’re great at coming up with ideas, so the team gets into a pattern of starting more things than it finishes. But because there’s no team accountability, you are constantly playing referee.
The only way to break this up is to ditch the 1:1s and move from referee to coach. Then you’ll start to make real progress.
The team sets OKRs and KPIs
Crucial to team accountability is a shared understanding of goals. These OKRs need to be set by the team itself. Working together, they need a purpose, BHAG and financial and non-financial goals. And they need to understand that on a daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly basis, they’ll hold each other to the KPIs.
One of the reasons I love OKRs is they encourage cross-functional working. So they’re great for the health of your Executive team. When we set them with clients, someone will own each OKR, but they’ll also have a collaborator. This forces two people on the Executive team to work on something together. Traditionally, the CEO owned these OKRs. But now the CEO owns none of them. Instead, the CEO ensures the team hits 70% of its OKRs. But they’re individually owned by the team.
The team knows the score.
Having clear team OKRs will clarify the expectations of each team member. Too often, I talk to Executives who are vague about this. I ask them, ‘Were you an A-Player yesterday?’ And I get blank looks in return. ‘What was the company expecting of you in your role?’ They can’t answer. Yet they are having 1:1s with their CEO, and the team hasn’t worked out what it needs from each role. It hasn’t looked at its Target Operating Model and worked out what each person needs to do for it to be successful.
In the daily huddle, the executive team need to know the score. When I talk to people we’re coaching about team sports, I get them to describe what’s true. You play a game for a set period and always know the score. There are rules that you play by, and the whole team respects them. Everyone knows the position they play in and what’s expected of them.
It’s no different in an Executive team. And yet there’s little clarity. Often I see tension around the rules. The CEO is holding 1:1s and then talking to one person about another as they try to resolve misunderstandings around the rules. No one knows the team score that they’re working towards. They might know their individual function’s score but not the executive team’s score.
Avoiding siloed thinking
Patrick Lencioni discusses this in his seminal book, ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’. Heads of functions like Sales or HR often feel this is their only team. But that’s like a group of 7-year-olds playing football. The striker scores two goals and thinks he’s had an excellent game. But the team loses 7:2.
Daily huddles and cross-functional OKRs will force the leadership team to be just that – a team. What are their expectations of each other? What are they going to measure? What are the health metrics on the Target Operating Model – the things that are currently broken in your activities that need attention every day? The daily huddle will bring the team together to discuss progress daily. If someone said they would do something, have they done it? And if they have, this improves their say-to-do ratio, which builds team trust. These conversations will also force the team to get good at conflict resolution.
So what are you waiting for? Ditch the 1:1s now and work on accountability through daily huddles. It could be the best decision you make.
- NAVIGATING AND COMMUNICATING CHANGE
- BUILDING COMPANY CULTURE
- CHOOSING THE RIGHT OPPORTUNITIES
- ORGANISING YOUR A-TEAM