How should Leadership Teams spend their time?

The Leadership Team’s time is a critical and often overlooked resource in many organizations. The organizational cost in such cases is extremely high since the leadership team is typically the decision bottleneck for most critical initiatives in any organization. Yes, organizations invest significant time, energy and money developing individual leaders, and those leaders are disciplined and intentional about where they invest their time – but surprisingly, the time leaders spend together as a team is often un-curated, ad hoc and inefficiently used.

So how do leadership teams typically spend their time? The answer starts with a belief about how leadership teams should spend their time to add the most value. Specifically, the four domains of a leadership team are:

  1. Strategy – setting vision, direction, priorities and resource allocation
  2. Operations – running the business and executing the strategy
  3. Reporting – monitoring and communicating results for themselves and stakeholders
  4. People, Org & Culture – leading and developing talent, capabilities and culture

We’ve surveyed how teams actually spend their time, and a pattern emerges with less disciplined leadership teams: they spend a plurality of their time on Reporting and surprisingly little on Strategy and Org issues. When asked, they often know it intuitively, self-reporting a strong desire to spend more time on Strategy in particular.

In one case, we helped a CEO looking to get more from his leadership team time.  Our baseline review revealed that this team was spending a whopping 43% of their time just reporting to each other, only 19% on strategy topics and an anemic 3% on people, org and culture issues.  The remaining 34% was spent operating the business.  We have found similar patterns at other clients.

As with many issues, a good problem definition, a little focus, and clear ownership can remedy the situation. Specifically, three steps can dramatically improve the use of this valuable resource: 1) be intentional about how you want to spend your time together, e.g., more strategy, less reporting; 2) put someone in charge of curating the calendar and agendas (not a secretary, a quasi-chief of staff); and 3) be adaptive as your needs change, e.g., more strategy today doesn’t mean more strategy forever.

If you are wondering what happened with our CEO friend, two years after adjusting the team’s calendar and managing their agendas more closely, their collective time was up to 34% on strategy, 26% on people, org and culture and down to only 8% on reporting.  Running the business used a relatively unchanged 32% of their time.

For more on this topic, read this interesting research by Michael Porter on the way CEOs use their time, and reach out if you need help with this issue.  How CEOs Spend Their Time