The humble agenda: it’s just a list, right?
There’s little doubt to anyone planning a meeting that an agenda is something to be considered, if only so the host remembers what they called the meeting for in the first place. But is that really all an agenda is useful for?
Meetings can easily run into unchartered waters, where attendees can start discussing what they watched on television the previous night, or who’s most upset them in the office, rather than the important matters at hand. Keeping to an agenda will not only ensure things remain timely and relevant, it also helps shape the whole feeling of the meeting you’re about to hold.
Consider the following, and how an agenda makes all the difference:
- An agenda helps people to prepare: Sending out the agenda for an upcoming meeting, to those attending, helps them plan their responses. You may believe that this is unnecessary – after all, if they feel strongly about an issue, they won’t be short of something to say on the subject, will they? However, a measured response and carefully thought out objections/qualifications are far more valuable than off-the-cuff, emotional reactions.
- An agenda helps you lay out a running order: More than just ‘a list’, an agenda helps you play about with the order of topics to be discussed. More serious issues can be identified and given higher ranking, so that they’re the first to be covered when attendees are fresh and alert, rather than nearer the end of the meeting when all those in the room want to do is rush off.
- An agenda usually includes, or refers to, minutes from the last meeting. This can be very useful – to look back at past meetings. Has a certain issue been raised before? Was a decision made previously that hasn’t yet been carried out? If something was implemented, is an update due? Consistency can be crucial if an issue is long-standing; an agenda helps you determine if something has been missed.
- Forming an agenda helps you determine if all topics are meeting-worthy. Perhaps a minor issue could be subject to a round robin email rather than inviting a whole discussion about it? Writing it down in black and white helps you decide if it’s to be brought into the boardroom.
- An agenda helps you gauge if you’ll get through everything in time. Not only will an agenda help keep the meeting on track, by allocating how long you’d expect individual items to be discussed, you can ascertain if you’ve time to get through everything. If there isn’t appropriate time, an agenda will help you ascertain the priority of every issue and plan out the ‘window of discussion’ for each.
- It will help you gather relevant material. Going through the process of compiling an agenda will help you catalogue any extra materials, documents or information you need to hand to be able to discuss items thoroughly, and so attendees can make informed contributions to the discussion – because otherwise, what’s the point?
- You can determine outcomes for every item listed for increased efficiency. For example, what will be the purpose of the discussion surrounding each issue? Will it be to raise awareness, to make a decision, to appoint responsibility, to gather results, etc.? Timelines for updates and results can also be attributed where necessary so that nothing is left open-ended and everything is measured/accounted for.
So you see, there’s more to an agenda than just a list of topics; it’s an incredibly useful tool to help you plan an effective meeting. As I’ve mentioned in recent posts, preparation is everything: compiling a detailed agenda will save you time in the long run – it’s not ‘just another job’ to be done.
People respond better if they know what’s being asked of them, and when they feel they’re making a valued contribution. An agenda can be more than a prompt; it can also prove to be a tool for team building: apportioning responsibility, actioning accountability and encouraging input.
Next week, we’ll cover the role of the chair (or chairperson) in a meeting, just before you head off to chair your own gatherings at the Christmas dinner table. If you’d like to know more about my executive coaching services, contact me on 01302 220221.
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