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How to Create an Effective Agenda to Set Up Your Meetings for Success

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You may consider meetings a necessary evil. They pull employees away from their work, disrupt focused time, and are almost universally hated. Or you might regard meetings as an indispensable method for doing business. They give teams the opportunity to share information, collaborate, and forge solutions that will achieve organizational objectives.

The extent to which meetings help or hinder your team will depend heavily on your ability to run them proficiently. A strong and well-planned agenda will be key to ensuring a successful meeting. Don’t risk the possibility of wasting another moment of your team’s precious time. Follow these suggestions for creating agendas that are sure to set your meetings up for maximum success.

Identify the Meeting’s Objective

Why are you having this meeting? Is it to share updates?  Troubleshoot a problem? Decide on a course of action? Understanding and communicating the reason for your meeting is one of the most important parts of developing your meeting agenda.

Through the process of setting your agenda, always keep your “why” top of mind. This will enable you to determine what topics are crucial for discussion and how best to cover each item. If a topic does not support your objective, it’s probably better discussed at a different meeting. Your meeting goal will also dictate exactly who needs to be in attendance. The last thing you want to do is needlessly pull people away from other work.

If you’re having trouble identifying an objective, that’s a good indication that the meeting isn’t necessary. If your goal is simply to share some updates, send an email or use team chat instead.

Get Input From Your Team

Once you determine a goal and know who needs to be present, outline the necessary topics for your meeting. Take the time to reach out to participants for their input on what they need to get from the meeting. Team members are far more likely to remain engaged when they feel their interests are represented and supported. 

When requesting input from participants, it is best to ask questions. Do they have vital information to share with other employees? Are they waiting on information to move forward with their own projects? Do they have questions or problems that might be answered or solved by the rest of the team?

Using this feedback, you can select the most important and relevant topics for discussion. Continue to refer to your meeting goal and exclude any topics that do not directly relate to achieving your objective.

Frame Meeting Topics as Questions

While there is nothing wrong with bulleting your agenda items, rephrasing them as questions makes them even more effective. Asking questions automatically invites discussion and encourages people to think more strategically and critically about a topic. This in turn leads to increased meeting engagement, freer dialogue, and more creative solutions.

If your agenda item is “Budget Planning,” you might reframe it as, “Which initiatives need more funding this year?” Or “Where can we reduce spending from last year?” 

If you are reviewing last quarter’s metrics, a question could be, “What internal and external factors kept us from meeting our goals?” Intentional and purpose-driven questions will go a long way toward keeping your discussion and your meeting on track.

Define the Purpose and Process for Each Agenda Item

Once you have decided on your agenda questions, you can take things a step further by defining the purpose of each item. Is the motivation to share information, get input on a decision, troubleshoot an issue, or actually make a decision? Defining these intentions gives participants a clear understanding of the end goal for each topic on the agenda.

Settling on a predefined process for discussion is another way to streamline your meetings. For example, you might begin with a two-minute topic overview, followed by a five-minute discussion of potential problems and solutions. At that point, you can take a minute to vote on next actions. A standard process consistently applied can ensure your meeting stays focused and orderly.  

Set Time Estimates

No one enjoys a meeting that starts late or runs over. Time is money, and inefficient meetings can come at a huge cost. Ending your meeting on time requires accurately estimating the time necessary to discuss all agenda items — and being willing to stick to it!

Consider this rule of thumb for estimating time allotments for discussion items. Take the number of participants and assume each will require 30 seconds for commenting. That will give you a reasonable minimum amount of time to assign for each topic. If there are additional components to an agenda item, such as a presentation or document review, take that extra time into account.

Also, be sure to prioritize the order of your discussion items. Topics that appear at the top of an agenda are typically allotted more time and energy than those appearing further down the list. Start with your most pressing issues first and stick to the allotted time frames.

Final Suggestions

Once your agenda has been finalized, distribute it at least three days in advance. This allows facilitators and other attendees to adequately prepare for the meeting. Leave space at the end of each meeting to summarize important content and recap any next actions. If you are thorough and thoughtful in creating your agenda, you’ll have armed yourself with a powerful resource for success.

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