There are few things worse in business than showing up for a meeting that has been poorly planned. You don’t know why you’re there or what needs to be accomplished. The organizer either hasn’t taken time to plan the purpose or – perhaps – hasn’t bothered to share the purpose with those around the table.
The solution to this problem is easy, people: Write an agenda. Send an agenda ahead of time. Print an agenda. (And, yes, you should do all three).
It may seem like a lot of pre-work, but every time you write and appropriately share an agenda, you’ll thank yourself.
An agenda is a mini-plan. It’s a small step in a larger plan that provides structure and direction. And, frankly, it also keeps teams focused on priorities.
Without an agenda, you’ll be less productive. You’ll have co-workers who get off topic and spend 20 minutes rehashing what happened over the weekend. Then you’ll spend 30 minutes agonizing over the color of flowers in a centerpiece when you really needed to decide the lunch menu.
The weekly staff meetings at Reach Partners have a set agenda. I think of agenda topics more like buckets. The specific items under each bucket change weekly, but we are always focused on our three major priorities: financials, marketing, and workload.
Without a clear agenda, it is too easy to discuss things that don’t matter.
Saves Time (and Resources)
Nobody wants to meet for the purpose of meeting.
A good agenda saves time and respects stakeholders’ time commitment. Since there’s a purpose and people know what it is, they are less likely to regret coming. In addition, a good agenda lists a start time and an end time, so people know what they are committing to beforehand.
Time is money and meetings are expensive. If you have 10 people attending a meeting and each person’s wage is $25 an hour, it costs $250 for every hour that group meets. An agenda helps make the most of that time.
I’ve been part of meetings where the project lead dismissed people after agenda items that pertained to them were done. At first it felt harsh and abrupt, but I’ve changed my mind. This person was giving people the gift of time. If the rest of the meeting didn’t pertain to them, they could be doing something more productive.
The general purpose of any meeting is to get a group of people together for some focused reason. The underlying premise is that each person invited has expertise to share or important opinions to be expressed.
An agenda sent ahead of time (no later than three days before the meeting) gives each stakeholder an opportunity to review, think, research and prepare. You want people to be engaged during the meeting, and there is a better chance of that if attendees know what to expect.
Without an agenda, attendees may be asked questions that they didn’t prepare for. Or the group isn’t prepared for the discussion you wanted to have or didn’t bring the data needed to support meaningful conversation.
An agenda sent ahead of time is more useful than one provided when you walk in the door. However, neglecting to send an agenda ahead of time doesn’t give you permission to not have one at all. A late agenda is better than no agenda at all.
Defines Next Steps
At the end of a recent meeting, I reached the last item on the agenda: review responsibilities. “John,” I said. “You are doing _______.” John quickly responded: “Oh, yes. I’m going to write that down.”
Include a quick “review” item at the end of every agenda. That plus a brief recap of the previous meeting at the beginning of every meeting put everyone on the same page quickly. We are more successful when we all know what’s going on, where things are headed, and what needs to be done.
In summary, I’ve never seen a meeting without an agenda go well. If I don’t know how to prepare or who will be attending, it feels like a waste of time.
Of course, an agenda doesn’t mean that the meeting has to be stuffy or formal. You can still have fun and share a story or two. Flexibility is allowed.
Just keep your meeting purposeful and focused. Everyone will thank you.
Your partners in leadership.