The biggest pain points with meetings?
- Unclear agenda or focus
- People coming to the meeting unprepared
- Unclear roles and responsibilities
- Discussions that don’t get to the heart of the matters
- Spending too much time on some topics and not enough time on others
- Inefficiencies; don’t get enough done
- Wasting time
Regardless of the group or team I survey in advance of the meeting effectiveness workshops I conduct, these are their top seven meeting aches and pains.
Yet, the group or team—especially the meeting leader—can relieve all of these pain points by consistently using a robust agenda.
Trouble is, many people don’t consistently use an agenda. And those who do leave out critical features that contribute to effective, brain-friendly and healthy meetings.
What’s a robust agenda? It includes at least these seven elements:
- Meeting outcomes: What do you want to achieve by getting people together?
- Type of meeting: Are you gathering to plan, brainstorm, check-in, problem-solve or some other reason?
- Participants: Who should be there and for what purpose?
- Topics: What are you planning to cover?
- Time allocation: How much of the meeting time do you want to devote to each topic, based on the importance of the topic?
- Actions required for each topic: Do you want discussion, information sharing, brainstorming or a decision?
- Next steps: Are you including time at the end of the meeting to agree to the next steps, including due dates and owners of the actions?
It’s also helpful for the meeting leader, organizer (if a different person) and participants to specify on the agenda the time and place you’re meeting and who’s taking the lead for each time slot on the agenda.
Workshop participants and others often say they’re too busy to put together a complete agenda.
Yet, if you don’t take the time upfront, you run the risk that you’ll waste more time in your meetings.
In my experience, you need just about 15 to 20 minutes to focus and prepare an agenda for a standard meeting. (By the way, meetings should run no longer than 90 minutes without a break. Anything longer and people lose the ability to stay focused. Our brains need to recharge.)
For a non-standard or demanding meeting, you’ll need about double that time to prepare. And if you are serious about conducting effective meetings, you’ll build in some more time to vet the agenda with a few key participants.
To get in the habit of preparing an agenda in advance, schedule time on your calendar. Ideally, block out the time for agenda preparation immediately after you set the meeting. That way, you’ll have time set aside and you won’t be scrambling to pull together the agenda minutes before the meeting starts.
Once you prepare the agenda, send it out at least three or four days in advance, or ideally a week, unless it’s an emergency meeting. That way everyone who’s coming will have clear expectations as to the purpose of the meeting and their role.
Then during the meeting, everyone—not just the leader—can help keep the meeting on track. Everyone has shared ownership and responsibility for the meeting.
Robust agendas sent in advance are especially helpful for virtual teams, or for participants who are working remotely and joining an in-person meeting by phone or video conferencing. The agenda acts as an easy-to-follow playbook so they can anticipate what’s happening next and participate more fully.
Agendas unfortunately have a bad rap. Just think of the expressions “hidden agenda,” “personal agenda” and “secret agenda.”
And for those of you who tend to be language purists, you may cringe along with me when you hear someone say “Let’s agendize (or agendicize this).” But you’ve got to acknowledge them for recognizing the power of agendas.
It’s time to respect —and regularly use—robust agendas. By doing so, you show greater respect to meeting participants.
Also, by using agendas, you’ll reduce the amount of whining about bad meetings. And as some groups have told me, they often feel a need to serve wine to placate the whiners, which can lead to even more meeting inefficiencies.
Are you ready to make a toast to the robust agenda and start adopting it? Let me know if you need any help.