A colleague of mine was responsible for running a bi-weekly two-hour team meeting. He took great care to develop a very full, detailed agenda. As we would get into the meeting, it would only take us getting to agenda item one before the meeting was behind schedule.
During the entire time that my colleague ran these meetings, we never got more than halfway through the agenda before adjourning. The team got so used to not making it through the agenda that there wasn’t even an attempt to try to stay on schedule. The agenda and associated times were completely unrealistic and were worthless as a meeting management tool.
So, what are some good tips to developing effective agenda? Consider these next time you have to plan a meeting:
- Have a tight, focused meeting purpose – You’ve called the meeting for a reason; make sure that the purpose is explicit and achievable. A good sanity check on this is that you should be able to complete this sentence: “At the end of this meeting we should be able to _______.”
- Cross-foot your agenda items with the meeting purpose – As you’re crafting your agenda items, make sure that each item is doing something to support the meeting purpose. If the items don’t support the meeting purpose either change the agenda item or change the purpose. Don’t confuse the attendees by having agenda items that don’t support the meeting purpose
- Be realistic with allocated agenda item times – Don’t put overly aggressive times on the agenda that you in your heart know you’re not going to achieve. Planning 90 minutes worth of meeting in 60 minutes means you’ll only get through 2/3 of the meeting or the meeting will run over by at least 30 minutes. Don’t wish for best case; put reality down.
- Distribute the agenda at least one day before the meeting – Meeting attendees want to know what is going to be discussed and if there is preparation that is needed prior to the meeting. Give them a day if possible to review the agenda and get mentally prepared for the meeting.
- Put the most important agenda items at the front of the meeting – Cover your top items first. There are two reasons for this: first, you’ll ensure that the most important items get covered. Second, you’ll keep attendee attention better by covering the most important items earlier. If they are put later in the agenda then you’ll see some chomping at the bit as you go through lesser important agenda items first.
- Have as your last agenda item an “action items review” section – I’ve seen way too many meetings happen in my career where the end of the meeting comes, everyone leaves, but there is no agreement on what actions need to be taken out of the meeting. In your action items review, indicate what the action items are, who is responsible for each action item, and when the action item needs to be completed by.
- Have a contingency plan in place for when agenda items run over – Even with the best-planned meetings, sometimes agenda items take longer than expected. Have a plan for how you are going to accommodate the change, which could mean shortening some other agenda items or eliminating an agenda item completely