Great Meetings have the Right Agenda


It’s hard to get a meeting to be productive, engaging, and a good use of everyone’s time without a good agenda. From putting too many things on it to underestimating how much is really needed for any one topic, we have big feelings about this. In our second post on disrupting toxic meeting culture, let’s talk about how great meetings have the right agenda. We’ll talk about simple ways you can improve your agenda for your very next meeting.

Clarify the Objective(s)

Take a step back for a moment. What are you trying to accomplish with this meeting? Where do you need people to be by the end of it?

Are you trying to make progress on an initiative?

Are you updating one another on projects?

Do you need to make a decision together?

The clearer you are about what specific place you want the group to be by the end of the meeting, the easier it will be to plan the agenda that will get you there.

Set Time Limits

The starting time for the meeting is almost always clear. But the ending time? Not so much. I’ve heard countless clients complain about meeting invites that only specify start times. Another pet peeve I hear about are meetings scheduled for 30 minutes that run for 90 minutes. But more about that in a moment.

Once you know your objectives, you can break the agenda into steps which will lead to meeting those objectives. Need to make a decision about something? What information will the group need to be able to do so? What else will they need? What else? What might stand in the way of progress?

Decide ahead how much time you want to spend on each agenda item. Once that time limit has been reached, are you prepared to move on? How will you handle it if no decision has been made? Have. A. Plan.

Respect the Time Limits

Starting a meeting late and running over time without permission are two ways to disrespect your participants in a huge way. This behavior assumes that your meeting takes precedence over anything else they might have planned. It is extremely self-centered. I don’t care if you’re the boss. That doesn’t give you the right to be disrespectful.

We’ve all been in meetings where the discussion has gone on longer than intended. Or we haven’t gotten to all the things on the agenda. That in and of itself isn’t problematic. It’s what we do about those situations that causes problems.

One option is to ask for permission to extend the meeting. Don’t do this if you aren’t prepared to accept “no” as an answer. And if too many people say they can’t extend past the time allotted, schedule a follow up.

Another option is to simply acknowledge that you’ve run out of time and go straight to the follow up. Schedule a time before leaving the meeting if possible. Once everyone scatters, it can be difficult to pin them down for the next time.

Bottom line? Plan. Set aside 15-30 minutes in your calendar to plan your next meeting. If you aren’t sure how to navigate from one topic to the next with clarity and purpose, your participants won’t participate. They’ll be doing other things to pass the time. Creating the right agenda can help keep them engaged and make your meetings great.


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