If you have ever had to sit through an interminable meeting, you probably had the time to come up with ways you would have done it differently. Meetings, if poorly planned, are difficult to mediate without concise agendas; decision-making becomes muddied by unfocused discussion and lack of informed participation. Designing an effective agenda is one of the ways one can harness the power of a strong team, as it provides both the necessary structure and informative content to get things accomplished properly.
Whether your meeting is daily, weekly, or quarterly, the necessity of a strong timeline is essential to maintaining efficiency, in groups both big and small. Listed below are some important factors to keep in mind when designing the agenda for your meetings. Consider the following:
Your Team’s Engagement With The Agenda
Did you select a topic that involves the team you’re addressing? Most people want to discuss things that affect them directly. Discussion around issues that involve different departments are good things to bring up during meetings, for which the resources have been allocated for the sole purpose of group discussions. As most organizations are powered through a sense of office interdependence, internal departments often need meeting time to coordinate and consolidate their efforts.
Considering the team’s engagement with what’s being discussed also allows you to tailor your agenda to your audience, and maximize audience participation.
When making your agenda, ask yourself, does this affect the people I’m addressing?
The Clarity of Your Agenda
Using buzzwords as bulletpoint topic sentences can leave a room of professionals floundering: if you announce the successful new product launch on the agenda under “Good Stuff We Did Recently”, it is likely that you will be the only one on that page. It is incredibly difficult to mediate a discussion if people aren’t clear on the subject matter, let alone able to prepate for it effectively.
Using question statements to bring up points in a meeting is a great way to make sure that discussion actually resolves the issue being presented. Using our hypothetical successful product launch as an example, consider this: What worked well for that launch? What markets have we opened with this success? Where do we take it from here?
When making subject lines for meetings, ask yourself, What are the answers I’m looking for? What question best helps us get there?
The Purpose of your Agenda
People can get upset when they realize that asking for their input doesn’t guarantee that they’ll have any say in the final decision-making process. It’s important to categorize each discussion based on what you are looking for from your audience. Delineate for the group what you’re expecting from their answers. The question-based approach helps you elicit more helpful responses from your team, but can also lead to frustration if you’re misleading in any way about what for which these responses are being used.
If the meeting is being held so you can gather input for a larger decision, make that known. If you need a sounding board on a new idea, state that in the agenda. If you’re looking for a consensus by the end of the meeting, write that down and make it very clear that the discussion’s end goal is to decide on something. In this way, you avoid getting sidetracked by points of contention amongst members of your team that may have notions of authority that do not hold weight in this particular meeting.
When listing expectations for meetings, ask yourself, am I looking for input, information, or a final decision?
The Timeliness of Your Agenda
This issue is a two-bit endeavour, as the timeliness of your agenda can determine the level of preparation your team members achieve. The sooner you get the agenda to them, the sooner you can expect them to consider elements of its discursive points and get ready to give you their input, or gather information to make an informed decision with you. It’s important to give your team some heads up when coming up to important decisions or meetings that involve preparation, as you want to maximize time with all involved parties, and trying to inform people while others who have prepared sit and wait is a great way to leave your team frustrated and dis-congruent.
When releasing the meeting agenda to the team, ask yourself, If I received this agenda right now, would I, myself, be ready for that meeting on time?
Time Management in Your Agenda
Keeping a large group of people on topic is difficult. Keeping them on schedule is nearly impossible. For this reason, it is vital to include a timing component to the design of your meeting agenda. Each section/question/topic portion should be clearly outlined within a time frame. This time frame should allot an adequate amount of time for discussion, revision, and conclusion. This is important to get outlined before the meeting: often times, you will end up hearing back that certain issues either need more time on the board, or could be cut down significantly.
When making time slots for each section of your meeting agenda, ask yourself, How is our time best used? Will their feedback open a dialogue that deserves further discussion? How long would I like to spend on this item?
Processing Your Agenda’s Goals
Processing your agenda has more to do with the steps involved in the process of all items in the meeting. It enumerates the levels of discussion throughout which you’re attempting to complete the task at hand. Agreeing on the ways in which issues will be processed increases the effectiveness of your meeting. If you don’t enumerate the way you’d like the team to address each issue, some members may end up distracted defining the issue, while some may be discussing its relevance to them: no one end up focused on identifying or evaluating any solutions.
The process for addressing an item should appear on the written agenda you’ll be providing. When you reach that item during the meeting, explain the process required to reach an agreement, and seek said agreement.
When first determining this process in your agenda, ask yourself, How do I want to lead this discussion? Do I want to hear from individuals or teams? Do I want unanimous voting, polling options, or a brainstorm discussion? How do I determine when an issue has been resolved? What does the ideal meeting look like to me?
Editing Your Agenda
This may be the most crucial part of making any agenda- understanding that they are always in a process of change. No agenda is immune to the folly of time, unexpected delays, sick days, or setbacks. For this reason, it’s important to be amenable to change. The agenda’s priorities will no doubt shift in importance as the date approaches and things become more solidified in real time. As the projects progress, so does the team, and thus, so do the agenda’s goals. The first item on any good agenda is “to edit and reprioritize today’s agenda”. This schedule item is the best way to make sure that your team is in accordance on what’s being discussed, why, to what lengths, and with what expectations on the day of.
When creating an agenda for any and all meeting, ask yourself, Is there room for discussion here? How can I best manage what I cannot plan? How do I keep my discussion centered?
Additional Agenda Suggestions
What’s Working Well
This is an important item to include in your agenda. It speaks volumes about your leadership to be able to suspend the urgency of a meeting to discuss elements of success with your team. It’s vital that everyone feels that their work is valued, despite time constraints, setbacks, snags and challenges. A job well done should be addressed, and using a few moments in your meeting to congratulate your team on what has been working well is a great way to keep up morale and foster a supportive work environment.
Things to Improve Upon
This is a lesser, but equally important category. It serves as a bit of a reminder to your team that there is always room for improvement. Whether you’ve been experiencing issues with timeliness, internal office dynamics, or simply had a difficult week in the market, make sure your team is aware of what is expected of them, at all times. Putting your coffee mug in the dishwasher is a small but important part of taking care of an office environment, and as inconsequential as it may seem, mentioning it as part of your meeting reinforces the importance of consistency.
Parking Lot Ideas
Whether or not you’ve heard of the Parking Lot phenomenon, you’ve definitely used its core concepts. It essentially acts as a sounding board for all ideas that cannot be immediately addressed in the current meeting environment. All new projects, ideas, queries and questions can be “parked” in the lot, and noted as points of discussion for future meetings. It also means you always have a storage unit full of ideas upon which to come back, should you have an extra few minutes at the end of a meeting. The Parking Lot is a great way to stay on-task, on-track, and on the record.
Overall, the most important thing to remember about designing an agenda is that you are always working together towards a common goal. You should be aiming to make your discussion cohesive, inclusive, creative, and productive. It’s hard to hit all the marks, but if you’ve got a slot for it on the agenda, you might just get there on time.