Meeting Agendas: Templates for Purpose and Productivity
Question: What’s the difference between a meeting that just
takes up time and a
meeting that makes good use of time? Answer: An actionable
agenda that is simultaneously relevant, realistic, organized and
tangible. Actionable agendas don't just "happen"
- you have to make them happen - using strategic thinking, proactive
planning and consistent standards. Read on to learn how it's
Getting Started: A Template for Productivity
Labels aside, what makes a meeting “productive”? To be called productive, a meeting
must be necessary, it must serve a purpose, it must deliver a result, and it
must be an effective use of everyone's time. On the flip side, what makes a meeting less than productive? Non
productive meetings are generally those that either fail to produce a meaningful result,
or take more time than should be necessary considering the results produced.
Further, non-productive meetings are often characterized by conflict, confusion,
lack of preparation, and a lack of participant engagement.
In other words,
non productive meetings are something to avoid. And, since meetings are a fact of life – why not make them as productive as
possible? Obviously, we all want that, but as always, productivity comes
price. You must be willing and able to invest appropriate time, effort and
pre-meeting planning and agenda development. The key is to find a simple
way to achieve meeting productivity with minimal “pre-meeting” overhead.
And, at the end of the day, this process begins and ends with the meeting agenda
(how it is developed, produced and then executed).
As can be expected, the best way to ensure “actionable agendas” and
productive meetings is to employ a standardized process for meeting planning and
agenda development – one that breaks the effort down into “building blocks” that
can be readily adapted and applied. In short, this process boils down to the
Set appropriate goals for meeting planning and related results.
Identify meeting requirements by defining meeting scope and purpose.
Translate identified requirements into actionable agenda items.
Organize the established agenda items into an executable meeting
structure that can be carried out in a pre-defined amount of time.
This process is detailed further below, starting with some basic
What Makes An Agenda Actionable?
Before that question can be answered, you must step back and ask “what
is a meeting agenda”? At the broadest level, meeting agendas are roadmaps for
how meetings will be conducted. Agendas establish the topics to be covered and
issues to be addressed, organized into a logical sequence, suited for discussion
and/or presentation, and carried out in a set period of time.
So what makes an agenda actionable? To be considered truly
actionable (capable of achieving pre-planned objectives with minimal overhead
burdens), meeting agendas must be purpose driven, reality based and results
oriented, as defined by the following four (4) characteristics:
- Relevant: The agenda must be sufficiently relevant to and aligned with the
established meeting purpose For example, if the purpose of the meeting is to
make one or more decisions, the agenda must be crafted to ensure that all required
information is conveyed and that appropriate discussion can take place.
- Realistic: The agenda must be achievable, considering the meeting purpose, time
available, participants and overall project status. For example, it is
neither productive or actionable to plan a 3 hour agenda when
only 1 hour is available.
- Organized: The agenda must be properly organized to meet designated objectives,
present required information, and conduct related discussions in a logical,
orderly fashion - one that makes sense and provides clarity. Agendas must also
be properly structured considering the time available for the meeting and the
time required to realize desired meeting goals.
- Tangible: The meeting agenda must be produced in a tangible, useable format, for
distribution to all participants in advance of the scheduled meeting date.
So, as agendas are planned, you can ask (4) simple
Does this agenda suit the meeting purpose?
Does the agenda make
sense and is it do-able?
Is the agenda properly organized (considering
purpose and constraints)?
Is the agenda properly documented, detailed and
ready for distribution?
If these questions can be answered in the affirmative, you have the
makings of an actionable agenda, ready for a productive meeting.
Creating the Actionable Agenda
It takes two types of “templates” to prepare an actionable meeting
agenda. One is the “physical kind”, used to document agenda (the agenda
deliverable) and the other is the “logical kind”, providing a “plug and play”
process for agenda development.
A picture is worth a thousand words. See the agenda
development process "illustrated" in our informative infographic:
Recipe for a Productive
- Step 1: Identify Meeting Scope. Agenda "assembly" begins with an
analysis of meeting scope, to clearly identify meeting purpose (what will be
accomplished), priority and value (considering overall importance and urgency),
planned results (expected outcome of the meeting) and timing needs (when the
meeting will take place and amount of time available).
- Step 2: Scope Forms Meeting Requirements. Scope is then broken down
into manageable " meeting requirements", covering the various types of
information to be presented, issues to be discussed, problems waiting to be
solved, and decisions that must be made.
- Step 3: Meeting Requirements Form Agenda Items. These requirements are
then translated into individual agenda items, to be ordered in sequence as they
will be addressed at the meeting. Individual agenda items become actionable
when they are sufficiently detailed considering subject matter facts, materials
to be used, the participants involved (including those involved in presenting),
and related preparation requirements (for meeting attendees).
- Step 4: Agenda Items Are Organized for Action. Every meeting is
structured into three (3) primary phases as follows: to set the stage (welcome
everyone and set expectations), execute the purpose (carry out the agenda items)
and transition to next steps (close the meeting). While the specifics of
each phase will vary, this approach ensures that every meeting is planned and
executed in a consistent manner, covering all of the required bases. Each
“phase” is populated with agenda items, ordered into a logical sequence, and
made timebound, all to ensure that the meeting is executed in an orderly
fashion. And, each phase is then documented for distribution and use as a
formal Meeting Agenda.
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