creating a meeting agenda

Last week, we started the conversation about meetings with our post, Meeting Madness. In it, we outlined the roles and rules that help to create great meetings. But no discussion of meetings would be complete without reviewing the importance of creating and using an agenda. 

An agenda is to a meeting like our skeleton is to our body: it provides the internal structure that allows the meeting to successfully come to life. 

Research on meetings has shown that whatever the group starts discussing first is what they are likely to focus the most time and energy on. Therefore, creating an agenda is critical to creating successful meetings, because it can intentionally focus the efforts of the group.  
An agenda should include:

  • Hot Topics. Things that need to be addressed and responded to today.
  • Ongoing Efforts — Framed as Questions to be Answered. This includes a summary of where the efforts are currently and what needs to be discussed to continue forward movement. The shift to a question format can dramatically help focus the discussion. Think of the difference between these two topic statements: “Personnel” and “How do we increase retention in Engineering?” The questions focuses the discussion and identifies the solution that is needed.
  • Ideas/Innovations. This is time to consider ideas that are emerging as the work unfolds and to identify if and how they will be addressed going forward. This is more than a parking lot. When you add this focus to a meeting, you create agreed upon commitments to follow-up in a specific timeframe (even if that’s 6–12 months out) or to do nothing, if that genuinely makes sense.
  • Goal and Process per Topic. It’s important, up front, to identify which topics are on the agenda to provide information, which need discussion and exploration, and which need a decision. It’s also powerfully helpful to name the process that will be use to get those results; for example, a quick survey, posting individual ideas then creating clusters from those ideas, a vote, discussion until there is agreement, etc.
  • Expectations for Preparation. One of the biggest wastes of time is bringing people together who haven’t had a chance to prepare for a discussion. Taking time out of the meeting to bring people up to speed should be used for emergencies only. A far better use of people’s time is to have each individual read through materials, summaries, and analyses ahead of time in preparation for the meeting, and for key owners of materials to do a deeper dive before they address the group.  

Creating successful meetings takes time and preparation upfront, but there is tremendous pay off for you and your team when you do. When meetings go well, each individual leaves feeling it’s been time well spent and they have what they need to move forward effectively in their jobs.
This week take some time to commit to creating useful, relevant agendas that bring out the best that your team has to offer.