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WHIN Monthly Bulletin

Effective Company Boards & Senior Management Teams (SMTs) Dr. Angus I. McLeod

How do you significantly improve the efficacy of a senior management team?

Strategic, practical steps and effective communication can create engagement, co-trust, increased creativity and more broadly-resourced solutions. Let’s start with the values that drive change, and how to apply those values.

Values Driving Change

Values are worthless without application. You cannot see or measure a value – you can spot and measure a behavior and see performance. So, we must look to both behavior and performance measures to create a difference.

A set of values that we may use to drive change at senior level often includes some or all of the following: the list should anyway be short!

  1. People
  2. Inclusivity
  3. Creativity
  4. Research
  5. Testing

To make change happen, these need to translated into brief, fully understood behaviors/performance. Note that the same values could be embraced throughout an entire organization to develop[1] scales of acceptable behavior and performance. For the first value, ‘People’ I will talk through the process, but for the others, let’s just list the outcomes in acceptable behaviors/performance.


Respect for all is embraced by listening without interruption. Argument is fine, negative judgements are not. Even if a contribution is impractical, it is best to respond with an unthreatening question, “Have you thought about the implication of our union representation and the implications of that?” This is much more encouraging than a sarcastic one, “That is a great idea, if you want the plant shut down by the union”. 

Some people have a psychological need to mentally reflect before being able to contribute. Accommodate that need by structuring meetings with break-outs for deliberation.

Respect difference, especially including minority views. Without difference, we cannot always make the best decisions. So, here are some behaviors/performance that may fall from the above thoughts:

  • We do not speak until the speaker has finished talking
  • We encourage and plan for self-reflective spaces
  • We are mindful of opposite/different views and their worth
  • We give credit for actions, behaviors and performance that meet or exceed expectations.

Below, using a similar process, a set of behavior/performance criteria are listed:


  • We each encourage everyone to contribute


  • We challenge ourselves to go deeper into details, when our reactions are negative
  • We encourage and plan for self-reflective spaces (2)


  • We make time for research where the impact of decisions is significant


  • We trial and test to adapt and improve when possible, before roll-out.

Working with Behavioral and Performance Norms

These behaviorally expressed norms become part of every meeting agenda, where they can be seen and referred to. Anyone should be able to challenge when norms are breached.

When facilitating Board change, I simply raise my hand and wait until whoever is speaking has finished. It is a method often continued by the team long after my stint with the Board has finished. Good questions include:

Mark, what was your objective in saying to Peter, “That will not work in France”. What did you want to have happen as a result?

Then, after Mark has answered:

So, what do you suppose the actual effect of your statement about France actually had in the room?

And after Mark responds to that:

So, team, what is the reality of your individual interpretation of what Mark said to Peter about France?

And after that:

So, Mark, what have we learned from that?

This format of intervention is repeated, and this helps others to embed a working and acceptable format (that may grow and change) within the team. If necessary, the actual behavioral norm can be overtly referred to as well.

Changing the Chair

A major and common issue concerns the Chair. In one London organization, the Chair appeared to be laid-back (watching) but in fact, the meetings existed only to ‘make him confident’ (every member of the team agreed with that privately, but none of them were big enough to challenge the Chair privately, let alone at a meeting. His questions were invariably set to achieve that obvious and unexpressed need in him to feel confident. Productivity and genuine sharing were limited, with only three to five of the 7-9 colleagues at meetings contributing, even in half-day meetings!

Rotation of the Chair among the whole team may not work. Not everyone is, or will be, ready to chair or be able to facilitate adequately.

When the Chair rotates, the usual Chair will have to draw back and mentally align themselves to be ‘just another’ member. In many cases the problem is also perception of other Board members: they may have placed the Chair on a virtual pedestal of respect, power or fear. In that case, the usual Chair needs to leave the meetings to the remainder of the team, so the rest of the team can empower themselves. When the usual Chair returns, that person may need to stay quiet for several meetings.

In some cases, the Chairing ability of all team members is so poor, that there is nobody capable of facilitation. In that case, go to colleague outside the team or bring in an external facilitator.

Outcomes, Outcomes, Outcomes

An agenda of topics is a hopeless waste of space. These topic-agendas are very common in Government, especially regional Government. Many such agendas exist throughout commercial organizations as well. In neither case should they be tolerated.

We need to drive action and success by driving the outcomes. For the avoidance of any doubt, outcome means behavior, performance, action!

Where responsibility for an outcome is taken, it needs to be recorded and reviewed later. Success should be uniformly honored.

  • We give credit for actions behaviors and performance that meet or exceed expectations

Meeting Times and Time Expectations

No meeting should be allowed to take place without both start and finish times. Incoming calls to the organization should never be answered like this: “She’s in a meeting and I don’t know when she will be available”. When we set a time-frame, we are also setting team and personal agendas for achieving what is necessary, in that time. Magically, with discipline, habitually long meetings get shorter!  

If people tend to arrive late, start on time, whoever is missing. Do not acknowledge a late-comer until the person speaking has finished talking. Pagers, phones and i-pads must be put into flight mode; distractions are disrespectful.

Time-table meetings at either quarter past or, quarter to the hour. Give both a budget and target duration for the meeting. Never overrun the budgeted time, ever! The best target and budget durations make a clear point by using 25, 35, 40 and 50 minutes as time-frames - these are never seen in organizations that have ineffective (and often unliked) meetings, so they make a distinctive message.

In one of my last corporate posts, people arrived on time (or soon afterwards) and meetings never over-ran the budget. As people got used to the new timings, I changed them; I started to run meetings at ten past, twenty past, twenty to, or ten to the hour. This developed even more concentration on start-times – and it worked. I do not recall anyone being late ever. Previous to my appointment, meetings that were running in 35 minutes on my watch had previously run for two, three or more hours previously. Sound familiar?!

Meetings Fit for Purpose

I call these Agenda Frames, but in fact they are just a set of four types of meeting that, with possible adjustment, will work for any meeting, in any setting, for any purpose!

Agenda Frame (Meeting Type)


Show & Tell

Tom on merger situation (15m)

Performance & Priorities (Individual & Project)

Sales Development (45m)

Participate & Develop

New Product (50m)

Blue Sky

Product Adaptation and New Markets (50m+50m, space for self-reflection)

There is a lot more about the setting for each of these types of Agenda Frame in ‘Self-Coaching Leadership’ [1].

End Note

Meetings can be hated for many reasons. These reasons may include side-lining, domination, ridicule, bullying, accusation, dishonest politicking, boredom and fear. That so many individuals are not excited and looking forward to meetings is unsurprising, but also a disgrace. We can and must do better.

[1] Preferably bottom-up, to improve employee ‘ownership’ and sense of value.

[1] McLeod, A. Self-Coaching Leadership – Simple Steps from Manager to Leader (John Wiley & Sons).