Is an agenda really necessary? You bet it is! An agenda is a very important part of any business meeting. Unless the entire group is working toward the same goal during the session, nothing positive or constructive will be accomplished. A solid agenda provides attendees with information about the meeting so they can come prepared to address appropriate topics in an efficient and effective manner.
Isn’t it frustrating to make time for someone’s meeting, your schedule loaded with high-priority work, only to find yourself sitting in a poorly run meeting? And how many times have you shown up at a meeting, only to discover that an important topic is to be discussed that you were completely unaware of. Result? You can easily be blindsided, perhaps in front of a top executive. It wastes everyone’s time and can even cause loss of credibility.
The person in charge of a meeting is responsible for knowing the issues to be addressed, and then talking to each team member to identify specific points ahead of time that need to be covered on the agenda. The agenda should then be distributed to every attendee – several days before the meeting. This way, loose ends can be tied up, the agenda tweaked, and (hopefully) everyone prepared for the topics to be discussed. The result will be a more productive meeting, a more cohesive group, and everyone working together.
A really powerful agenda is more than simple bullet points of current items to be addressed, along with the date, time, and location of the meeting. Include bullet points of uncompleted items from the previous meeting along with current issues, and attendees’ names and contact numbers.
If you’re setting the agenda, make sure it addresses the most critical issues first. You might have one or more people with overlapping meetings or who are not associated with every item on the agenda. This way, top issues can be addressed and people who don’t need to stay on for the full meeting can leave. This practice will not only win you brownie points with busy people, but your meetings will also be much more productive.
If you’re running the meeting, at the beginning re-establish the agenda and finish time. It keeps everyone on task and focused.
Seek out a good role model
Some years ago I had the good fortune to work on a large training project with Helen, a very efficient project manager. She was a wonderful role model on how to run good meetings. She started every gathering with a courteous: ‘Thanks for coming. This meeting will finish by …. ‘
In a group meeting she kept control by then saying something like, ‘The items I have for discussion are … ‘ She’d then quickly read them off the agenda already circulated. Next a question: ‘Does anyone have other topics you’d like to add to the list?’ Any last minute item would never take precedence over the pre-planned agenda, but we’d deal with it if we had time.
If she’d received an update on a specific item just before the start of the meeting, she would tell us. She didn’t go into details until she reached that part of the agenda; instead she’d just say something like, ‘A change has been made to item 5A.’
Less formal one-on-one meetings
If it was a meeting with just the two of us, Helen always began with, ‘Great to catch up again, Robyn. Before we start, let’s do a time and agenda check. What time do you have to be gone by?’ It was a great focusing question and kept us very task-oriented.
She’d then apply the same courtesy as in the bigger group, asking, ‘Now, what items would you like covered?’ After receiving my contributions she added her own. Very rarely would she allow us to digress off the agenda, tempting as it can be for people who’ve become friends. Extraneous conversation was put aside until the end of the meeting – if we had time.