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. This type of agenda rarely happens by chance - it takes planning, which takes time – but as the rest of this article shows, it can be time well spent.
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 at a price. You must be willing and able to invest appropriate time, effort and energy into 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 following steps:
This process is detailed further below, starting with some basic planning definitions.
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.
If these questions can be answered in the affirmative, you have the makings of an actionable agenda, ready for a productive meeting.
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.
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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