Meeting Agendas: A Must-Have For Leaders

A Simple Tool That Makes the Best Use of Everyone’s Time.

By Steve Schumacker

Have you ever been in a meeting that had no direction and seemed to be a complete waste of time? Do you ever meet, just to meet? Have you ever left a meeting thinking, “I could have been more productive elsewhere?”

At some point in our careers, we have all answered yes to those questions. Keep in mind, the people that attend your meetings probably feel the same way from time to time. A simple, yet powerful tool to make meetings productive and make people feel good about attending, is an agenda.

I was a member of a project team recently. This is a new role for me, as I am usually the leader or facilitator of projects and teams. It was a great experience for me, because I became much more aware of how participants feel when meetings are not as productive as they could be.

Over the course of two days, we had a series of meetings and none of them had much forethought, much less a specific agenda of what we were supposed to accomplish. I noticed a lot of hesitation in everyone, aimless discussion, discomfort and a general lack of direction for the two days.

There were a number of things that got accomplished over the two days, but it was clear to me that so much more could have been done by thinking through an agenda beforehand, and sharing it with everyone.

As a leader of meetings, there are several things you can do, in regards to agendas. These things will not only enhance your meetings, but they will also enhance others’ perceptions of you as a leader.

Make the agenda objective-driven. Prior to writing the agenda, think about what will be the objective of the meeting. Information sharing? Decision-making? Team-building?

Be clear on what you want people to do differently as a result of the meeting. Then, build activities and discussions into the agenda that will accomplish the objective.

Involve others. Think about the people that should attend the meeting and ask what outcomes they would like to see. Doing this builds ownership and buy-in on their parts. The people you invite should be ones that can play an active role in helping you accomplish the objective of the meeting.

Asking others for input does not mean you have to include their thoughts in the agenda. Make that point clear when asking for input. Only add items that you are given, to the agenda, if they clearly lead to the meeting outcome you want.

Send it out in advance. Everyone is busy. Write out the agenda with estimated times for each agenda item. Sending it out early, with times listed, will help participants plan what they want to say or do in the meeting and gauge their own work time around the meeting. You will be amazed how much more productive your meetings will be when people get time to think about the agenda.

Use the agenda during the meeting. Having an agenda, and using it, during the meeting is like having a GPS when traveling. It gives you a roadmap to guide everyone. This is especially helpful when the discussion gets off-track, or someone starts to dominate discussions.

Review the agenda at the end. Everyone likes to have a scoreboard to see how they did. A meeting is no different than keeping score on sales, quality, production, downtime, etc. Prior to ending the meeting, go over the agenda with the participants to assess how you did.

Check on the times you had for each agenda item and whether the meeting objective was accomplished. Use the agenda as a means of giving and getting feedback on where the meeting can be improved.

Your company invests a lot of money and time in meetings. It is your responsibility to make sure the company gets a return on that investment. Making a clear agenda, sending it out in advance, and making it a working tool will help you get that return for your company.