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

I’m amazed at how often I hear people complaining about “having” to go to “another” meeting, and when asked to elaborate, go on to say things like: meetings are such a waste of time; or, nothing ever seems to get resolved; there’s never any follow up.

Why is that? Obviously something is missing. An AGENDA, perhaps?

But, what exactly is an AGENDA and what will it do for you?

A meeting agenda is a list of actionable items requiring attention, discussion, approval, dismissal or delay to the order in which said items are to be addressed that meeting participants (team members) hope to accomplish or resolve within the time allowed to move a project forward. It will help you stay on task and on time -- and, keep the meeting from going off the rails.

(Quarterly Results Meetings and/or general Department Meetings tend to follow a set reporting pattern and are more about information sharing than decision making, moving a project forward, etc. One-on-one meetings such as performance reviews while they may not require a formal agenda, still require both parties to be prepared and sensitive to each other’s time and have at least an outline of what needs to be discussed and addressed at their fingertips.) For purposes of this post, I’m concentrating on team/project meetings.

An agenda should define the purpose of a meeting and provide a list of items to be discussed reflective of the meeting purpose and should include the following components.

  • Date, time and location of the meeting.

  • Names of team members expected 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 delivery format for each.

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 the negativity identified above should become 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.

A meeting reminder and agenda should be sent to meeting participants a week in advance(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 as you set the agenda. Status reports on project updates, unexpected delays, expenditures and budget overruns would be key agenda items for discussion.

Meetings should be led by the meeting organizer (sometimes also referred to as facilitator, host, chair or team lead) 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 to designate a 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 assign a scribe (note taker) 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 all participants. It can also be a deterrent to late comers if it is determined that the last person to arrive be designated as the scribe. Regardless, I’d recommend that everyone be given a turn so no one feels slighted.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the scribe should provide a brief verbal recap of: decisions made; upcoming deadlines (refer to project time line, if necessary) and/or next steps; and date, time and location of next meeting so there are no surprises or misunderstandings after people return to their desks.

Meeting notes should be prepared by the scribe 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; deadlines for completing tasks; and confirmation of next meeting.

In short, here are a few quick tips to help make your team meetings more successful.

  1. Send out agenda at least a week in advance.

  2. Determine best day of the week and time frame (morning or afternoon) that works for most.

  3. Keep people engaged. Make sure all voices are heard. Introduce/welcome new members.

  4. Keep presentations short and power point presentations colorful and readable.

  5. Use a conference or U-shape set for your meetings. (U-shape may be preferred if there are presentations and someone wants/needs to be front and center).

  6. Designate a meeting scribe to take notes.

  7. Confirm date, time, location, and any follow up required for next meeting prior to conclusion of current meeting.

  8. Send meeting notes with follow up assignments within 24-48 hours.

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.

To LEARN additional key strategies to help you with your meeting planning, check out my book.

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



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