All too often, agendas are made up on the fly, added last minute, or left unchanged from week to week. This renders the agenda lazy and hollow and leaves your team likely uninspired, or worse, wondering “What was the point of that meeting?”
When we put so little effort going into a meeting, we grow accustomed to very little coming out. A Harvard Business Review study supports this sentiment, reporting only 17% of executives agree their meetings are productive uses of group and individual time.
This routine, err vicious cycle, perfectly sums up how & why (most) meetings are generally viewed as colossal wastes of time and disruptions to real work. There’s not enough time invested in pre-meeting prep work. No matter how familiar you are with leading meetings - whether you’re a first time manager or a seasoned pro - we want to make sure your meetings are set up for success, and that all starts with a meaningful agenda.
In The Surprising Science of Meetings, Steven Rogelberg likens an agenda to an event plan. When planning an event, we think about the details, the flow, the experience, and the approach. We should apply that same mindset and process when planning a meeting. In fact, once you factor in attendee time, salaries, and time away from equally essential solo work, meetings can become fairly expensive events in their own right, further justifying careful planning.
Think about showing up to a client without being ready to discuss their account, any services issues, or potential projects coming up. That should never happen right? That same focus should be brought to your internal meetings!
How to Prepare for Productive Meetings
1. Know Why You’re Meeting
Meetings must have a purpose and a desired outcome. Before you begin creating an agenda, figure out if you need to meet by asking why. Do you need to solve a problem, make a decision, or do you just want to check in with a direct report? Meetings should be called to address issues that require genuine interaction and engagement amongst attendees. If the topic doesn’t require interaction, another communication medium, like an email or memo, will likely be more efficient.
Once you’ve decided a meeting is necessary, make the purpose known, even including it in the agenda, so everyone else explicitly knows why you’re meeting.
2. Collaborate on the Agenda
For meetings to be transformative, they need to be a shared experience. Ideas for your meeting agenda should bubble up from team members. Rogelberg agrees; “When your employees are encouraged to bring their thoughts and ideas to the table and to have them be truly heard, they tend to feel a greater sense of commitment to and identification with the team and organization”. This lends itself to meetings where attendees are actively involved and invested in the meeting, while increasing the chances of hitting topics of critical importance to all who are present.
What employees propose should definitely be considered, but you, as the meeting facilitator have final say. Encourage attendees to submit topics for discussion 2-4 days in advance of the meeting. Ask them to include a 1-2 sentence reason for why they want a topic included in the meeting. If a topic doesn’t make the cut, privately give an explanation to the employee or move it to a more appropriate meeting, like your 1:1. Make sure to always close the loop, though. Your simple acknowledgement goes a long way.
Strety Users: Our agendas are shared and collaborative. No need to go back and forth about agenda construction. Encourage everyone to add leading up and you can be the gatekeeper for what makes it one. Just get more ideas on the table!
3. Curate Your Agenda
Now that all the potential agenda items have been collected, it’s time to whittle the list down. Determine which topics will really add value to the meeting and drop any content that doesn’t contribute to the meeting’s purpose and desired outcome(s).
Studies from Rogelberg suggest that items early in an agenda receive a disproportionate amount of time and attention, so order your topics in order of importance. Know the difference between what’s essential to cover and what would be nice.
Next, look for agenda items that should be addressed in/around one another. This will help your agenda flow more smoothly. If all else is relatively equal, prioritize employee-generated agenda items. This sends a strong message around voice, inclusion, and shared ownership.
Lastly, meetings should always start and stop in the same way. Open with a short ice-breaker or segue. Close with a summation of key takeaways and clarifying ownership of next steps/action items
4. Share Meeting Responsibilities
A meeting should always have a facilitator but that doesn’t mean they’re solely responsible for leading the discussion around every agenda item. Each agenda item should have it’s own clearly - and publicly - designated owner. If an engineer on your team wants to talk about a specific services issue, they need to prep that agenda item and own the discussion.
Sharing responsibility will also provide an opportunity to develop meeting leadership skills for other team members and it will get more people - and varied voices - involved in the meeting.
Strety Users: Manage the work that results from your meetings with Action Items. We allow you to assign to-dos and manage their progress from meeting to meeting, so there’s accountability and nothing slips through the cracks.
5. Plan For Process
Rogelberg says “planning a meeting is knowing not only what you want to cover but also how you want to go about doing it.” This final step in agenda creation is often ignored or assumed as obvious but it’s imperative you put some thought into the process to which you’ll address each agenda item.
There are plenty of tools and techniques to consider when discussing certain agenda items - we’ve even written about a few here. Consider the team, the task, and the desired outcome. For example, if your weekly team meeting has an agenda item to discuss KPIs (we love KPIs, we’re all BrightGauge alumni), the process would be “I’ll lead this topic off discussing my team’s KPIs and we’ll go around the room letting each team lead share theirs”..
Leaders are uniquely qualified to attach process to agenda items given their big-picture understanding and their responsibility in ensuring there’s a positive return on time spent in the meeting.
An agenda alone will not make your meeting great but putting a little effort into it definitely will. By establishing a purpose, opening it up for collaboration, thinking through flow & process, and divvying out responsibility you’ll change the attitude towards meetings in your company and you’ll increase the return on everyone’s time investment.
If you want to see your meetings improve - and automate much of what you’ve read above - request a demo and let us show you the Strety solution!