Creating the Perfect Meeting Agenda
Creating the perfect meeting requires a bit of time and planning. However, when factoring in the cost of multiple peoples’ time, it’s an investment of time well spent.
Meetings are often shaped by the culture of an organization. For example, a tech team might have a daily scrum, which is typically a stand-up meeting of plans for the day.
At the other extreme, is a mandate recently put into place at Amazon by founder Jeff Bezos. His dictum: no more PowerPoints. Instead, the meeting organizer is responsible for crafting a 6-page narrative which is read in silence for 30 minutes at the beginning of the meeting by all attendees.
Neither format is necessarily ideal. For one, the daily scrum does not always use an agenda to guide the conversation.
And it’s not clear whether the Amazon meeting attendees received advance notice of the specific agenda, a cornerstone of successful planning.
An agenda drives whether a meeting is successful or not. Effective meetings should have:
- Stated purpose or agenda
- Definitive action plan or next step for participants to walk away with
- End time
Preparing a successful meeting agenda starts with an examination of the 5 W’s + H (who, what, where, when, why) before getting to the “how.”
Meetings generally fall into three different types, which directs the particular format and meeting room needs and support requirements.
The type of meeting will drive the agenda, as well as the necessary logistics and physical setting.
- Informative. This might be training, or dissemination of other predetermined information needed to be shared with the particular audience.
- Generative. The purpose of these meetings typically focuses on ideation or other creative brainstorming.
- Evaluative. This means some sort of decision is being made. It might be a team meeting to discuss how to proceed with the task at hand, or it might be a board meeting where strategic company decisions will be made.
Clarifying the purpose of the meeting also helps participants participate most effectively and determine expectations for whether they should listen (informative), provide input (generative) or take part in decision-making (evaluative).
5 W’s of a Meeting Agenda
Before the agenda is developed, the planner should consult with any other employees who may be needed to hold the meeting.
Once it is determined that a meeting is necessary to accomplish the designated goal, the list of participants can be developed. For maximize meeting time, thebalancecareers.com suggests some questions to ask before developing the invite list:
- Who must own the solution the group develops?
- Who owns the process the group is discussing?
- Who needs to know the information you are distributing?
- Who can provide data and facts to guide decision-making?
- Who has experience or expertise to share with the group?
- Who must support the implementation of any solutions or task?
- Who must provide permission or resources to accomplish the meeting outcome?
- Who might oppose the implementation of any solutions or direction?
It may not be necessary for all parties to attend the meeting (indeed, the more participants, the more cumbersome the meeting and the lower chance for rapid resolution). Harvard Business Review reported that the most effective meetings have eight or fewer participants.
An agenda is a list of items to accomplish, or essentially, goals to be accomplished during the meeting. It’s a roadmap to guide discourse and ensure all information is understood, loose items are assigned, previous items are resolved.
Items to include would be:
An effective agenda encourages effective communication, supports organization and ultimately increases productivity. It keeps people on track, sets expectations for what needs to occur before and during a meeting. It helps team members prepare, allocates time wisely, quickly gets everyone on the same topic and identifies when the discussion is complete. It provides a framework to address any issues that come up during the meeting.
Ideally a meeting agenda should be circulated to all participants at least 24 hours in advances, and more if extensive preparation is needed.
Identify (designate) who is responsible for leading each topic on the agenda.
How: Tips / Guidelines for content
- Begin with the end in mind, as suggested by Steven Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Knowing the desired outcome will drive the focus of the meeting, the actual agenda and the people who should attend (participants)
- A general meeting agenda should be divided into sections. Ideally, each section should have an estimated time frame and designate the person leading that section
- Greetings and introductions. If many of the participants don’t know each other, consider an icebreaker.
- Meeting overview. State the purpose of the meeting, agenda, and expected outcomes. Ask if the agenda needs any revising (modifications) due to recent circumstances or other reason
- Old business. Recapping the takeaways from the previous meeting puts the current one in context and gives a heads up on what will be discussed in the current meeting. Any items still pending should be addressed by next steps needed to complete the item.
- New business. Depending on the meeting type, this may be where attendees share updates of their individual projects and action items. Or, it may be where the presenter shares the relevant departmental and/or company information the participants need. Or both.
- Action items. Review progress on action items, action plans and commitments. Review group progress on goals. Open items should be organized to be reviewed and assigned as appropriate.
- Resolution. Discuss and make decisions about the agenda items for this meeting.
- Next steps. New business topics that were brought up and that merit additional study and/or discussion should be noted. Also, expectations for any follow up action to old business should be clarified. Most importantly, a responsible individual or team should be designated for each action item so important matters don’t slip through the cracks. Identify any assistance needed from people not in attendance and designate which participant will follow up with needed contact.
- Next meeting. Discuss purpose, outcome and agenda items for the next meeting. Agree on time and place for next meeting, or when it will be scheduled. Determine if anyone outside the meeting participants needs to know the discussion and outcomes and how that communication will be handled.
- Recap. Distribute notes with action items within 24 hours if possible. Circulate or post in a shared document such as google drive or Slack, so all team members have access.
- Reach out to team members. Participants will be more engaged if the meeting focuses on items relevant to their situation (items that reflect their needs). Ask team members to suggest agenda items and a reason why each item needs to be addressed in a group setting. If you choose not to include the item, be sure to explain your rationale for excluding.
- Include topics that affect the team. Team meeting time is expensive and difficult
- Designate (estimate) the time needed for each agenda item. This will ensure you stay on track and that your agenda is realistic. Consider the amount of time will be needed to introduce each topic, answer questions, resolve varying viewpoints, generate possible solutions and clarify next steps (action items)
- For example, if you have four agenda items in a 45-minute timeframe, each item should be allotted 10 minutes or so, leaving time for opening and wrap-up. However, if one item is going to require updates by 8 attendees, factor that in as well. If each respondent needs 2 minutes, that means that agenda item will likely need 16 minutes.
- Define the meeting goals and expectations. Having a firm handle on what the goal of the meeting, what the primary topic/s of discussion are, and their priority will shape an effective agenda.
- Right-sizing the room space from a meeting space provider such as DaVinci Virtual
- Provide details on meeting logistics. The meeting organizer is responsible for arranging all meeting arrangements, from space location, to booking appropriate time slot, to arranging for all presentation materials, note-taking and any food and beverage. Working with a virtual office provider such as DaVinci Virtual can be like adding a meeting administrator to the team who will help coordinate as needed. With xx locations worldwide, finding an appropriately size space in a convenient location for all attendees is virtually assured.
- Relevant details should be noted on the agenda for easy reference: date, time, location, call-in details and/or web link, preparation required with link and/or attachment and what, if anything, to bring. Additionally, the fleshed-out agenda should include topic for discussion, the amount of time each agenda item is anticipated to take,
- Agenda logistics should also include the who: who is organizing the meeting, who is leading the meeting and who is taking notes and who is attending.
- Focus on topics relevant to the entire team. The more people involved in a meeting, the more difficult it is to schedule and the higher the expense of time. Meeting time should be focuses on discussions and decision-making that requires input from all team members to solve, i.e. the issues must be interedependent, requiring individuals to coordinate their actions.
- According to the Harvard Business Review, If the team isn’t spending most of the meeting talking about interdependent issues, members will disengage and ultimately not attend.
- Frame topics as questions. Instead of mere statements that can be interpreted ambiguously, posing topics as questions allows participants to more fully prepare for the meeting. Secondly, it provides a (reality) check that the discussion is staying on track if others notice that comments don’t appear (ask for clarity) to answer the question at hand. Third, once the question is answered, the team understands discussion is completed.
- Include the process for addressing each agenda item). This might Identifying (designating) the specific steps (procedure) can make a more effective outcome. For example, the process might be to share relevant information available, discuss advantages and disadvantages of potential solutions, resolution and next steps.
Suggested template / checklist
HBR provides a suggested meeting agenda template.
Meeting details & logistics.