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The Meeting Agenda: A WIN-WIN approach to Successful Meetings

A meeting agenda is a list of actionable items requiring attention, discussion, approval, dismissal or delay in the order in which said items are to be addressed that meeting participants hope to accomplish or resolve within the time allowed to move a project forward. The meeting agenda should define the purpose of a meeting; the agenda items reflective of the meeting purpose.

An agenda should include the following components.

  • Date, time and location of the meeting.

  • Who specifically needs to attend.

  • Items to be discussed and the person(s) responsible for contributing/reporting.

  • Amount of time allowed/needed per discussion item.

  • Status reports, samples of products or supporting materials required by anyone being asked to present and the preferred delivery formats for each.

An agenda should be sent to meeting participants at minimum 24-48 hours in advance of the meeting; a week (or more), if there are reports to be generated/reviewed in preparation for discussion. An agenda for ongoing special projects is driven in part by the project’s time line so as you prepare the agenda be sure to review the time line for any upcoming deadlines. Status reports on project updates, unexpected delays, expenditures and budget overruns would be key agenda items for these kinds of meetings.

Meetings should be led by the meeting organizer (sometimes referred to as a facilitator, host or chair) who opens the meeting, introduces everyone present and gives a brief overview of what is to follow and the intended outcomes.

It is important to stay on task and on time, therefore, it is beneficial that someone be designated as time keeper to make sure everyone stays on topic and on time. This should make your meetings more productive, provide the people present with a sense that you value their time, and give the group a sense of accomplishment. During the meeting, If you run into a snag with an agenda item – maybe an issue surfaces that wasn’t anticipated – and it is apparent more time is needed to resolve the issue, the facilitator and time keeper will need to decide whether to: 1) continue the discussion until a resolution is arrived at; 2) re-evaluate and/or shuffle the remaining agenda items in order to conclude within the established start/stop times of the meeting; or 3) table the agenda item pending further discussion/review.

It is also importance that the facilitator assigns a note taker (or scribe) for each meeting to insure an accurate accounting of decisions made, new issues that may have surfaced as a result of discussions or actions taken, required follow-up or outstanding issues, next steps and/or upcoming deadlines. This practice can be a good learning experience for participants. It can also be a deterrent to late comers if it is determined that the last person to arrive is designated as the note taker.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the note taker should provide a brief verbal recap of decisions made, upcoming deadlines (refer to project time line) and/or next steps, and date, time and location of next meeting.

Meeting notes should be prepared by the note taker as soon as possible after the meeting and should be reviewed by the facilitator for final approval before being distributed to the whole group. Meeting notes do not have to be lengthy, nor overly detailed BUT they do need to be timely (within 24-48 hours of meeting). They should include: key decisions made; follow up items required and the people responsible for the follow up; deadline for completing tasks; and confirmation of next meeting.

I’ve been amazed at how often I hear people complain about “meetings” as being a waste of time, that nothing ever seems to get resolved, and that there is no follow up. It makes perfect sense to me that if you provide an agenda that clearly identifies what is going to be discussed, who needs to be there and what each person is responsible for, the format they need to follow in preparing what it is they are being asked to provide, and they are given adequate time and resources to prepare that this negativity should turn into a non-issue.

Meeting participants have an obligation to the success of meetings as well. They need to stay focused, arrive on time, come prepared, pay attention, ask good questions and provide solutions to problems rather than just complain.

Your meetings will be more productive, EVERYONE should feel a sense of accomplishment and pride, and overall morale much more positive with this WIN-WIN approach to conducting successful meetings.

Mary Jo Wiseman, CMP | Author, “The Meeting Planning Process: A Guide to Planning Successful Meeting.

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