There are few things that light me up at work more than a well-designed meeting agenda.
Meeting time is a valuable resource that should be treated carefully and intentionally. When done well, time spent in meetings can build trust and engagement on your team and support the success of your business and the wellbeing of you and your team.
Unfortunately, meetings can be, and too often are, a source of frustration, lost time, and decreased morale on teams.
Meeting agendas help ensure that your meetings support the success of your business and the wellbeing of you and your team, whether you are a solopreneur, lead a small team, or lead a large team.
It’s probably no surprise that, as an external facilitator to small businesses, I design meeting agendas for teams of two to teams of ~30.
But, it might surprise you to know that, as a solopreneur, I have daily, monthly, and quarterly meetings with myself, and, yes, I have agendas for all of them.
Why are meeting agendas so important?
Meeting agendas serve many purposes beyond just having an outline of topics to be discussed. Let’s take a look at both the business case and the human case for creating effective agendas.
A good agenda sets the purpose of the meeting.
Every agenda should start with what you hope to accomplish in the meeting. Setting clear outcomes helps you identify who needs to be at the meeting and what conversations need to be had to achieve your outcomes. It also helps you narrow the focus of the meeting.
People with full plates want to know that the way they’re asked to spend their time is purposeful. Being able to communicate what you’re going to achieve and why their involvement is valuable ahead of time can help people feel good about how they’re spending their time and energy.
At the same time, if someone doesn’t have a clear purpose for being at the meeting, let them sit it out and stay focused on the tasks that feel more relevant. When people trust that you are being mindful of their time and energy, their sense of commitment and engagement goes up.
An agenda helps you identify the conversations that need to happen in the meeting.
Once you know the objective/s of the meeting, you can decide what you need to discuss to actually achieve them. This creates more focused and effective conversations and motivates people to participate because they know what the goal is and how the conversations align. (Just because we have people together does not mean we need to talk about all. the. things!)
NOTE - If you notice that your outcomes don’t need conversations, you probably don’t need a meeting - you might be able to accomplish the same thing with an email or some other form of communication.
An agenda gives people a chance to prepare.
People feel more fulfillment and wellbeing at work when they feel like they have a voice and can make a meaningful contribution. Meeting agendas support this! When people know what will be discussed and what decisions must be made, they can adequately prepare ahead of time.
This also creates more opportunity for people with different personalities and learning styles to contribute in a way that feels best aligned for them. When we spring topics on people in meetings, many people won’t feel prepared to contribute; and we end up hearing from the same few people repeatedly and miss out on the important perspectives of others.
An agenda helps you be mindful of the time.
This one is a bit of a chicken and egg situation. You might know how much time you have available and then decide what can reasonably be accomplished in that time. Or, you may know what you want to accomplish and then decide how long you will need.
The process of writing an agenda can help you answer those questions, and, once decided, you can be mindful about what you truly want to include and how long you will allot for each conversation.
NOTE - Many people lose steam in a meeting in under an hour, AND their calendars are full of back-to-back meetings. To support the effectiveness of your meetings and the wellbeing of your team - I recommend limiting meetings to 45 minutes when possible. If you need more time than that, see if there’s a way to break the meeting into smaller meetings.
Basic elements of a meeting agenda:
Ready to start using meeting agendas for yourself or your team? Here’s a simple list of things to include:
Logistics: An agenda should include the date and time of the meeting and any info about where/how the meeting will take place. You can also include anything you want people to bring with them if relevant.
Objectives/outcomes: As stated above, we want to be clear on what we are trying to achieve in the meeting so you can make a good decision about: who should be there, how people can prepare ahead of time, and what conversations should be had.
Intro/opening/welcome: A meeting uses people’s valuable time and energy. Take a moment to thank them for coming and share a few words about why you appreciate their input on the topic.
Check-in: A check-in is an opportunity for each person to bring their voice into the meeting, which can increase participation throughout the meeting. It also allows people to connect with each other, which is increasingly important in our current work environment.
Conversations aligned with outcomes/objectives: This can be challenging - but I can’t stress enough the importance of keeping conversations aligned with outcomes! Once we get off topic and outside the scope of the meeting, people start checking out, we run out of time for the topics that do support the outcomes, or, worse, we go over time and leave people scrambling to adjust their schedule.
Choose the most important conversations, and leave the rest for another time.
Recap/next steps: I don’t know anyone who wants to leave a meeting feeling like nothing was accomplished. Taking the time to recap the conversations, identify and assign next steps, and discuss how you will follow up brings a sense of purpose and accomplishment to a meeting. It also sets you up for success with accountability.
Check-out: A check-out brings closure by allowing people to say a few words about how they feel at the end of a meeting.Closing: Thank people for their engagement and contribution, and send them on their way!
Beyond the basic meeting:
Meetings can support our businesses and our teams in many ways beyond the day-to-day and week-to-week work. Facilitated team-building, strategic planning, priority-setting, off-site retreats, etc., are all different kinds of meetings that require a higher level of care and consideration in their planning. If you are looking to host one of those and would like the support of an external facilitator - let’s connect!
Meeting agendas are an essential part of leading great meetings! Use them often and use them well! And, of course, as with everything - take the pieces above that work for you and your team, and don’t stress about the rest. Agendas require planning AND flexibility.
Want more on meeting agendas? “No agenda, no attenda” was one of my favorite new-to-me sayings of 2022. I was going to link an article here, but the truth is, I found many good ones, but couldn’t actually find the one I originally read. So, take it to the Googles and see what resonates with you!