Even the best senior management teams struggle to allocate their time wisely: A 2011 McKinsey & Company survey found that only 35 percent of executives think their top team's time is properly allocated to core C-suite functions, and just 38 percent thought their executive teams focus on work that merits their perspective.

We asked executive-team expert Ron Ashkenas of Schaffer Consulting how executives can improve on those figures. He tells Build that a top team's focus should be narrow: long-term strategy, resource allocation, hiring and development processes, and corporate governance. Some executives, such as the CFO and COO, have plenty of operational nitty-gritty to deal with, but they should do so on their own time, so to speak, versus in the context of their roles as top team members.

Ashkenas and leadership consultant Michael O'Brien of the O'Brien Group offer these strategies for keeping executive meetings focused.

1. Drop old habits.
Ashkenas (@rashkenas) challenges his executive clients to imagine completely losing one workday a week. Which duties would they drop or delegate? This exercise forces each executive to reprioritize his or her daily duties and helps ensure that C-level meetings focus on critical work only.

2. Set boundaries.
Every C-level meeting should have a clear agenda and goals, O'Brien says. Even time for debate should be scheduled, with minutes allotted to each exec. To rein in blabbermouths, appoint a facilitator to shut down chatter, or give every team member conversational veto power.

3. Give information a purpose.
Every agenda item should result in one of two outcomes, O'Brien says: a decision made or a problem solved. If a team member brings a report to the meeting, it must play into achieving one of those two goals. That means no more pro forma updates.

Published on: Nov 25, 2013