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Do you prepare an agenda for every meeting you lead? Do the meetings you attend typically have an agenda? What’s so special about agendas anyway?

A meeting agenda is not a calendar invite.

Contrary to what many calendar systems would have us believe, a meeting agenda is more than a calendar invite with a list of topics to cover. An effective agenda is the map that guides the meeting even before it starts. It helps determine who should attend, informs participants how to prepare, and supplies criteria to evaluate the meeting’s success. Here are some key elements of a meeting agenda that can lead to a productive meeting conversation.

  • The desired outcome. A statement that indicates what you will have achieved by the end of the meeting.
  • Topics/activities. A list of what you will talk about and activities to do during the meeting.
  • Prework. Instructions for what people should do to prepare for the meeting, and the accompanying materials.
  • Norms. A list of ground rules that inform how people should act during the meeting.
  • Roles. Assignments for who will do what during the meeting.

Including these elements in an agenda will shorten meeting times, focus the conversation, and improve participant preparedness.

How to craft an effective meeting agenda.

Below you will find examples of how these elements play out in real life meetings. We offer best practice examples and their less productive (but more common) counterparts.

Desired outcomes.

Start with the end in mind. Define the specific results you want to achieve in the meeting to set the stage for focused discussion.

This Not That

Approval of changes to next quarter’s budget based on last quarter’s performance.

To discuss last quarter’s financials and implications for next quarter.

Why

State the result that you will achieve so you will be able to measure your meeting’s success after it is over. Evaluate actual meeting outcomes and not activities. Structure your desired outcomes as noun phrases, not “to + verb” statements.

Agenda topics.

Include topics of discussion, activities, and the decisions to be made. Make sure meeting agenda items relate to the desired outcomes.

This Not That
1. Check-in. (5 mins)

2. What are the key learnings from last quarter’s performance? (15 mins)

3. Walk through the proposed budget. (30 mins)

  • Does this accurately reflect the learnings from last quarter?
  • What are the questions or concerns about the proposed budget?
  • How do we address these concerns?

4. Next Steps. (5 mins)

5. Check-out.  (5 mins)

Review Budget Q3 2016 and proposed budget for Q4.

Why

Think of agenda topics as the instruction manual for your meeting. When you plan (and follow) each step, you’re more likely to achieve the result you want in the time frame you’re allotted. Providing estimated times for the specific steps will make sure you’re not scheduling too much or too little time to accomplish the meeting’s work. Plus, it will help you facilitate the conversation to move forward by saying, “We’re at the end of the reflection time. Is there anything burning that needs to be shared? If not, let’s move on.”

Prework.

Assign work that aligns all participants and reduces time needed for presentation and explanation of the material.

This Not That

Review the attached budget from Q3 and the proposed Q4 budget and prepare your answers to these questions. This will help us to consider everyone’s thoughts as we finalize the budget for Q4  (~15 min):

  • What surprises or concerns you?
  • Does the proposed budget accurately address the Q3 results? If not, why not?

Review attached file.

Why

Prework facilitates productive meetings by enabling participants to take in information on their own time and prepare their thoughts. It allows more time for active discussion during the meeting. Giving the “why” for the prework, as well as estimated completion time, provides context and demonstrates respect for participants so they are more likely to engage.

Norms

Establish ground rules based on the type of discussion. Add context-specific norms to set participants’ expectations and facilitate effective participation.

This Not That
  • Avoid “No, but” statements – try to build on the ideas of others with “Yes, and” statements.
  • Share ideas first and reserve judgment for later.
  • Offer ideas / topics for the backburner in order to keep the conversation focused.
  • Signal when you are inquiring / advocating / playing devil’s advocate.
  • We will use [consensus, consultative, majority rule, voting] as our decision making process.
  • Use the mute button during conference call to prevent the transmission of background noise.

No norms are included in the agenda.

Why

Norms are the ground rules for how a team collaborates. Clear meeting norms align the participants’ expectations and guide the behavior of meeting participants. If the ground rules are not specified, people come in with different expectations which may not be conducive to effective communication.

Roles.

Assign appropriate roles to the participants to help manage the process of the meeting. Rotate roles among team members if appropriate.

This Not That
  • Facilitator: Person A
    Keep the team on track with the agenda items and ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Note-taker: Person B
    Record Learnings, Decisions, Tasks, and general notes during the meeting. Give a high-level summary of the Decisions and Tasks at the end of the meeting.
  • Technology-keeper: Person C
    Set up meeting technology (video call, microphone, etc.) and troubleshoot as needed.
  • Time-keeper: Person D
    Remind people of meeting time constraints.

“Did anyone take notes?”

Why

When you walk into a meeting, you’re likely to know who’s leading the conversation, but what about these other meeting roles? With clearly defined roles, people will understand their responsibilities and the meeting leader can rely on his/her team-mates to help ensure the conversation is productive and captured for future reference.

This sounds great. But how much time does it take?

Creating a comprehensive meeting agenda might seem time-consuming at first, but if you look closely, your team is likely wasting time, energy and employee morale in unproductive meetings right now. When you spend 10-15 minutes to outline the desired outcomes, key topics and preparation instructions for each of your meetings and share them ahead of time with participants, you will gain back much more than you’ve spent. When everyone is ready to engage and the meeting roadmap is clear, you will make every meeting matter.

What do your meeting agendas look like? Let us know below or tweet to us at @meeteorHQ!

Enjoy this article?

Get a sneak peak into Meeteor’s upcoming book: Momentum: Creating Effective, Engaging, and Enjoyable Meetings. Available on Amazon on November 6th 2017. Download a free chapter today and get notified when the book is out.

Mamie Kanfer Stewart

Mamie Kanfer Stewart is the Founder & CEO of Meeteor. She is passionate about making work-life better through good process.

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