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Meetings

Starting With an Agenda Is How You Have Effective Meetings in a Crazy Busy World

No organization can function without meetings but most would function better if the meetings were more organized.
Starting With an Agenda Is How You Have Effective Meetings in a Crazy Busy World
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15+ min read
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Hosting a successful meeting involves several steps. Start with an effective meeting agenda. An agenda uses such steps as defining the objective, eliminating distractions, encouraging participation -- and especially ending with an action plan. None of this is possible without an effective meeting agenda.

Your meeting agenda is arguably the most important part of a meeting. This piece has everything you will ever likely require for agenda information.

Here’s how can you successfully create and set your own effective meeting agenda -- no matter what agenda form you use.

What is a meeting agenda?

An effective meeting agenda is simply a document that lists the order each item that will be discussed during the meeting. The agenda is given out to all meeting participants prior to the meeting. This agenda should be provided several days in advance.

The minimum timeframe before the meeting would be 24 hours in advance. This gives attendees an opportunity to plan and prepare for the meeting.

Effective agendas are developed and shared with others by the meeting facilitator.

This facilitator is usually a chairperson with input and feedback from attendees. Any team member can be given this responsibility. If you  have a meeting to discuss online safety procedures -- then the head of the IT department or an outside security consultant would be the better choice for a facilitator.

Related: 4 Workplace Trends Every Small Business Should Know About for 2019

Meeting agendas can be a formal outline that follows Robert’s Rules of Order.

This would mean that the effective meeting agenda would includes items like a call to order and the steps needed to cover both old and new business items. The classic Robert’s Rules of Order is a good format to follow.

However, an agenda doesn’t have to be complicated. It can be a simple document that contains just one or two items -- along with the appropriate time allotted for discussion or voting.

Determining how formal you want the agenda to be all depends on the purpose of the meeting and the needs of your business or team. For example, an effective agenda for a team meeting may be less formal than that for a conference or meeting with potential investors.

The goals are the same for both meeting agendas: to inform participants about which topics will be covered during the meeting.

You may also wish to include these five items on your meeting agenda:

  • Location and date.
  • Start and end time of the meeting.
  • Attendees.
  • Time allocated to each topic.
  • Names of participants will be leading each topic discussion.

Reasoning for the need of an agenda in meetings.

An agenda ensures that meetings are productive and successful. It's achieved by accomplishing the following:

  • Reduces wasted time and resources. An agenda guides the meeting -- meaning that only the important topics are discussed and not irrelevant discussions. It also ensures that they start and end on time so that attendees aren’t stuck in an unproductive meeting and can go back to work.

  • Allows others to speak. If you’ve invited a guest speaker or ask a team member to provide an update -- the agenda gives them a chance to prepare. It also informs them when they’ll be going to speak.

  • Encourages participation. When your team knows what to expect walking into a meeting they’ll feel more comfortable participating. They’ve had time to think about the issues they want to address. As a result, they feel more valued -- which can help improve loyalty and productivity.

  • An effective meeting agenda insures important topics are covered. Only the most important topics are discussed and you can reduce the number of meetings within your organization. Instead of a weekly status meeting you can cover that through email. Your project management system handles the rest of your team business. You save meetings for either the beginning or end of the month.

Simply put, meetings without an agenda are disorganized and serious time-wasters. Your agenda lets everyone in attendance know what’s going to be discussed. All teams will know how long they'll be tied up. The meeting will be short, concise, and productive.

Developing a meeting agenda.

The first step in developing a meeting agenda is to determine whether or not any other individuals are needed.

Who will be in helping you plan and prepare the meeting? If you’re discussing a new sales strategy -- then you would want to get the head of your sales team involved with the planning of the meeting.

First you'll identify whom you need to assist you with planning the meeting. You'll also decide what the goals and purpose of the meeting will be. Begin by establishing manageable, measurable, and practical goals for your meeting. These set goals will ensure that you have the foundation for an effective meeting plan.

It’s important to note that you only set realistic goals that can be achieved within the time frame of your meeting. This is the key to an effective meeting agenda. It’s better to accomplish one goal -- instead of trying to tackle five or six goals.

Five or six goals will drag the meeting on and on. What’s more, having too many goals can muddy the purpose of the meeting.

To blur the purpose of the meeting may not seem important. But, the objective of the meeting will guide you in determining the focus, agenda, and participants of the meeting. Once you’ve determined the  target of the meeting -- you can identify if you need anyone to assist you in planning the agenda.

If you require meeting agenda helps -- you will want to give your people some notice -- usually an email will suffice. Again -- a 24 hour period is usually sufficient.

Related: The #1 Secret to Amazing Time and Calendar Management

The decisions you will make while developing an effective meeting agenda.

Have you determined and set the overall goal of the meeting? Now it’s time to take into consideration the following important decisions to make while developing the meeting agenda.

  • Who is required to attend this particular meeting?

    The participants needed to be in attendance the actual meeting or in the meeting via Zoom, Google hang-outs, Outlook, etc. Keep track of this in a calendar app.

  • The items that will be discussed.

    This is the information, components or the action items that will be directed to your team. What details need consideration to complete a successful goal or purpose the team is working toward?

  • How long will you allow each piece of information to be discussed before a decision or vote?

    Estimate and determine the amount of time you will take for the group to discuss each item. Stick to this timeframe no matter what.

  • A date and time for the meeting -- sharing your calendar.

    Have an absolute date and time and never deviate. Use a scheduling tool like Calendar can eliminate lengthy email threads. Keep suggestions and details to a minimum. All that's required is when, where, and type of meeting to schedule.

  • A convenient stable location for locals -- list of participants and the rest of the team on virtual -- all fit the agenda aspects comfortably.

    If you need to show a PowerPoint presentation then you’ll need the right gear to display the presentation for both your local and your virtual team at the same time.

    If your meeting is outside of your office -- consider a neutral location that can be accessed easily for each participant whether local or virtual.

  • Pre-work for the meeting.

    This includes any documents, data, or reading that will be discussed during the meeting. Attach these to the meeting agenda so that attendees can look them over in advance.

The decision items listed above have become standards for a meeting agenda. Other elements of a meeting agenda could include:

  • A review -- if short.

    Of the meeting’s purpose, agenda, and expected outcome.

  • Checking-in on each participants' progress.

    It is nice to have an AirTable built on your site or calendar for this purpose concerning assigned tasks. Any action items set during the previous meeting should be addressed. Done? Not done? Timeframes?

  • The final agenda -- review of the commitments.

    This is the quick review of what will be done by attendees during the current meeting. The note taker or leader is responsible for this.

Management meetings.

Your team leaders, managers, or directors will be having their own separate team meetings. Who will be invited to this meeting? Identify and list the participants you wish to attend the meeting. Have them listed on the meeting agenda. If a person's name is on the agenda -- and they don't show -- this will only happen once.

As a general rule of thumb, the less people you invite, the better. In fact, you may choose to follow the two-pizza rule -- credited to Jeff Bezos -- which according to hi, -- is: “if a team couldn’t be fed with two pizzas, it was too big.”

The small meeting rule may not be a rule you can keep. However, when planning your meeting -- consider you don’t have to invite every employee. That's unless this is your quarterly check-in meeting. Otherwise only have the participants who can help you in accomplishing this meetings goal and agenda.

Related: 30-Hour Work Week? It's Been The Secret to Her Startup's Success.

How to determine who attends.

Are you having trouble identifying which individuals presence is required? Here’s how you can quickly determine who should be invited to the meeting:

  • Invite those persons most affected by the topic.

    If you’re discussing how you can close more sales -- then your sales team should be in attendance -- and not team members involved with IT or bookkeeping.

  • Identify participants who have knowledge or expertise.

    These should individuals who can help solve a problem or bring fresh ideas to the table, provide data, or share industry updates.

  • Who are the individuals who can provide updates on this project?

    Your IT department most likely doesn’t know the progress of a recent marketing campaign.

  • Which team members are needed to make decisions that will help your organization meet its goals?

    If your goal is to capture more leads, then you would need the leaders in your sales and marketing departments. They’re the ones implementing new solutions and overseeing the new direction.

  • Ask participants if they know anyone who can be an assist.

    You may have a new employee who has interesting and unique ideas that will help move a task or project in the right direction.

An agenda is a goo idea even for routine meetings.

Does every meeting you schedule require a custom developed agenda? Not necessarily -- but I would.

Remember, your employees only attend regularly scheduled meetings that impact their specific department or group. What’s more, there are teams and projects where you’re more hands-on and others where you’re observing.

Take for example an ongoing long-term project. A long-term project doesn’t need a newly developed agenda. In fact, you may be able to scrap some meetings altogether during the course of project. Status update meetings need not be more than 15 to 30 minutes.. Instead -- track the progress through email or a project management system or calendar reporting.

Differing types of meeting agendas.

If you can -- keep a standard agenda -- then the team knows exactly what to expect before a meeting and the agenda is simple. This makes your meeting agenda more effective. Same items discussed each time in the same order -- is the most simple and straightforward.

With that in mind -- most meetings include the following four agenda items:

  • Informational.

    These agenda items commonly involve a brief one-way presentation that will provide background information to attendees. Participants are only there to listen, understand, and comply -- this process is used when a decision has been made from the top. In other words -- employee feedback is not solicited.

  • Advisory.

    These agenda items are included when a decision has not been made. The meeting facilitator may want to ask for advice -- feedback or input from those attending the meeting. These agenda items give participants an opportunity to share concerns and voice their opinions regarding the items being discussed.

  • Problem solving.

    These are meeting agenda items where the purpose is to come-up with a problem resolution or decision.You’re gathering ideas from the collective intelligence and expertise of the group. These meetings are a perfect platform for (quickly) brainstorming ways to solve a problem.

  • Request for help.

    This category of meeting agenda items is where participants ask others in attendance for help on a personal or professional issue. Most of the time these agenda items will become follow ups for the next meeting. Additional information will be needed.

The key components in all effective agendas.

Regardless of the type of meeting you’re planning, it should contain the following key components:

  • Item Number. This is simply the number that represents the order in which the agenda item is planned to be discussed.
  • Subject. Just a short title that describes the issue that need to be discussed.
  • Background. This would be any relevant information regarding the issue being discussed. Examples include links to previous actions and previous decisions.
  • Category. This is the type of meeting planned; Informational, Advisory, Problem solving, Request for help.

Sample meeting agenda: for a regularly scheduled meeting.

Ready to start developing your own meeting agenda. Here’s a simple and handy sample agenda for you to use for a regularly scheduled meeting.

  • Warm-up and greetings. If the group does not meet often, you may want to include an icebreaker.
  • Review purpose -- The expected outcomes.
  • One minute review -- The minutes of the prior meeting.
  • Relevant information -- Departmental and company.
  • Review the progress on action items. Action plans, and commitments made from the previous meeting. Also review group progress on goals.
  • Discuss and make decisions. Items for this meeting.
  • Identify next steps -- Your team -- or next steps each team.
  • Identify the purpose and outcome -- For the next meeting.
  • Note taker should note the attendees -- For example: a social media manage would be in-charge of assisting his team on those decisions made during the meeting.
  • Identify any assistance needed from people not in the group -- Assign which participants will make contact.
  • When the meeting concludes -- The note taker should review the commitments made by participants during the meeting and send a quick review email or slack if the information wasn't Calendar-ed right then.
  • Send minutes out to attendees. The note taker took the minutes electronically -- this can be done immediately. The notes should be taken right on the screen so that everyone sees these notes -- and sees the assignments in real-time.

If you still have some inspiration: here are five meeting agenda templates that you can use when planning your next meeting:

Sticking to the agenda and capturing action items.

No matter how well you developed your agenda -- it will only be effective -- if you follow it appropriately. Additionally, you also need to capture action items as you go along. Everyone will then be knowledgable about what to do next -- and what is coming down the pipe for everyone else.

Here’s a couple of ways that you can stick to your agenda.

  • The notes taken during the meeting are usually done by your assistant. These serve as the written record of the discussions, decisions and next steps. You will share this information with those who were in attendance to refer to -- and for any who couldn’t attend.
  • Very few will ever miss a meeting -- if you always have the virtual option. Everyone needs to use the same tools in your agenda and with the work load. If you created your agenda using Office, and the note taker uses Google Drive -- it’s a problem. Have everyone on the same page -- literally. Same system -- same tools.
  • Be engaging through standing agenda items & discussion topics. Did you know that 9 out of 10 people daydream in meetings? So, make sure that your encourage participation as you go through each topic by asking questions or opinions. Vote or conduct a poll.
  • Participants received the agenda in advance. They came prepared with information, thoughts and questions. You may also want to use visual, like video, charts, and or a slide deck presentation. You can make meetings interactive by pairing up participants together to work on a task or discuss a specific topic.
  • Assign action items as you go. As each item is discussed -- make sure to track and assign the follow-up immediately. Action items should be done right when they are discussed. Don't wait until the end of the meeting.
  • Don’t forget to include due dates for any assigned action items with clear expectations. This will keep your team accountable and productive. You can track these action items directly in your agenda so that everyone can reference them if needed.

Wrapping up your meeting.

Finally, make sure that you don’t overlook how you’re going to end the meeting.

It’s easy to do, but closing the meeting productively ensures that the meeting was effective. With that in mind -- make sure that you leave enough time in your agenda to review any needed details. Check that you addressed all items in the agenda and assigned clearly defined actions

Sometime during the year -- you may even want to conduct a poll to see what participants like or dislike in the meetings.

With a poll -- you can learn how you can improve your meetings. Consider using what Twitter and Medium co-founder, Ev Williams does --  “closing rounds.”

“In a closing round, you go around the room and give everyone a chance to comment on the meeting,” writes Williams. “There is no discussion or back-and-forth allowed. People tend to talk for less than 30 seconds (often a lot less), so you could close a large, 10-person meeting in less than five minutes.”

Think about leaving your team -- happy -- instead of stressed.

Although it may take a little time to prepare your agenda -- it’s time well spent. It guarantees that your meetings will be effective and productive.

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