3.1 Agendas

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Some companies, in an effort to manage time more effectively, have standards of practice that require 30 minute meetings. A list of specific questions to be answered, or decisions to be made in the meeting, will allow the attendees to do the necessary research or consider their positions. This is important because, simply stating that attendees should be prepared to discuss a particular topic, may not always inspire them to bring the relevant information with them.

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Time is a precious commodity in business. And yet much of it feels as though it’s being wasted. Almost every organization at some point in time suffers from either too many meetings, or meetings that are not productive. One action that can ameliorate this problem is an agenda. A quality agenda delivered to all attendees in advance of a meeting is critical for ensuring that a meeting is focused, organized, flows, and is completed in the least amount of time that is reasonable. In short, an agenda is a list of topics for discussion. In any kind of a meeting. You solve an adherence to an agenda keeps the discussion on track and the meeting on schedule. Also, when included in an invitation, and agenda is a way to brief participants on how they should prepare for the meeting and what they should bring with them. An agenda is an important component of every meeting. Whether recurrent or single and regardless of who is invited. There are some organizations that believe this so strongly that they require an agenda for any meeting. And if one doesn’t exist, the meeting is canceled. In this lesson, we will discuss the basic structure of agendas, how to select an agenda format and some tips and techniques for writing an agenda. If you are tasked with writing an agenda, you’ll first need to know what to include. First, the fairly obvious components of date, time and location. Often though, this is the only information that’s shared when a meeting is announced. However to make a meeting truly productive, you should provide your attendees with much more information. The duration of the meeting is also important, you don’t need people walking out mid meeting because, they assumed it was a 30 minute meeting and you plan for 60. There may be a standard practice at your organization regarding meeting length. Some companies, in an effort to manage time more effectively, have standards of practice that require 30 minute meetings. Except for special circumstance. Others though, just assume a one hour time slow for their meetings. Be clear on the expectation before you plan the meeting. And be sure to provide both a beginning and an ending time. Also be very clear about the purpose of the meeting and be sure that agenda items are directly related to that purpose. Attendees will be much better prepared if they are also provided with advance preparation guidelines. If there’s an expectation that one of the attendees will update the others on a program or initiative, or if a decision needs to be regarding an expenditure or program change, ask the attendees to bring necessary information. Any data, reports or updates to the meeting. For example, you might say, please have a copy of the 2005 financial report with you. It’s frustrating for everyone when a decision cannot be made, or an initiative cannot be moved forward because, no one in the room has the necessary information. A request on the agenda will go a long way toward avoiding this situation. You might also wanna let invitees know what they need to review, or think about before the meeting, so that the discussion can be more targeted and productive. A list of specific questions to be answered, or decisions to be made in the meeting, will allow the attendees to do the necessary research or consider their positions. This is important because, simply stating that attendees should be prepared to discuss a particular topic, may not always inspire them to bring the relevant information with them. I recommend that you state items for discussion using results oriented action words. For example, decide on which vendor to award sunrise account to as a better agenda item then, sunrise account, or talk about sunrise bitters, is also helpful to provide a list of invited attendees and who is in charge of providing the information or leading the discussion on each agenda item. Another useful tool is to provide an approximate time to be spent on each item. Doing so will accomplish a number of things. You’ll let everyone know the time frame for that topic and attendees have an opportunity to plan their part of the discussion with a time limit in mind. And there is time for attendees to let you know, if they think the time you have allotted is too much or too little. The revisions to the agenda can then occur before the meeting, so that no time needs to be spent on the agenda itself during the meeting. Finally, always put an action item review as the last five minutes of the meeting. To ensure that everyone leaves knowing what was decided, what actions are going to occur, and who is responsible for each action item. Certainly there are many different formats for an agenda. Although, in reality very few stray from the basic structure I just discussed. Word processing software like Microsoft Word, offers agenda templates and agenda wizards for you to use. So there’s really no need to create a new format. Also, there may be standard format already in existence for your organization. Even if it doesn’t include all of the agenda items I reviewed, you can modify it, which is likely to be a little easier than starting from a blank page. The agenda format to use depends on first, when the attendees are going to view the agenda. Most agendas are distributed days before the meeting, which I highly recommend, by the way. There are cases, however, when an emergency meeting has to be called. And the agenda is sent on the meeting day, or even the meeting hour, itself. If it’s the latter case, write the agenda in outline form. This way it can be easily reviewed in the shortest amount of time. The format also depends upon the the context of the meeting. Some meetings happen regularly. For example, a monthly board of directors meeting. In this case, sections on matters resolved at the previous meeting or matters arising from the previous meeting, may be appropriate for the meetings to have a good flow. Agendas for meetings that happen regularly, may not be as detailed as other agendas. Cause there’s the presumption that regular attendees can easily make out what is expected. The attendees level of familiarity with the items in the agenda kinda also dictate, how detailed and how formal an agenda should be. Even with their recurrent meeting though, a reminder of what to bring and what to be prepared for can be very useful. Also the purpose of your agenda. Your purpose in sending out an agenda can influence what format you should use. Some agendas are meant as an invitation to potential meeting attendees. In this case you might include sections on how you perceive their input on the discussion would help. Some agendas are meant as orientations. When this is the case, you might inform the invitees what to expect at each point in the agenda. This will be particularly useful if the meeting is formal in nature and attendees are likely to be concerned about what is expected of them. Or what protocol is being followed. As you write your agenda consider the priorities and the logical flow and timing. The priority of items in your agenda may be fairly straight forward, but I still recommend consulting the invitees about what topics should be included in the agenda. If time doesn’t allow for this, or you feel that it’s pretty clear what the priorities are. Seek confirmation from your team that the agenda is accurate and complete. The topics should be ranked in descending order of importance and also descending order of urgency. This way the lower priority topics, can be sacrificed if you run out of time during the meeting. When it comes to flow, you want to start with the topics arising from the previous meeting first, unless new issues are more important. Agenda is informational items first and then those that require critical thinking and decision making after receiving the information. Also, combine items that are related or are similar and allow time for questions. And as I mentioned before, schedule the last five minutes as a wrap-up, session during which action items are agreed upon and assigned. As you put together your agenda, plan for only 30 minutes to a maximum of 90 minutes. Anything longer tends to be unproductive, because of attendee’s fatigue. Be reasonable in setting that would be spent on each topic, but limit it. This will keep the meeting on track. If the discussion has to be really focused, be sure that you state in the agenda precisely what will be discussed and decided. I’ll show you some examples of meeting agendas. A note to anyone using Microsoft Word 2010. There is a great agenda wizard in the templates that can dramatically simplify the process and help you to ensure that you’ve included everything. For recurrent meetings you’ll probably find that you modify the agenda from the last meeting. Be sure though to review it carefully so that you don’t forget to change the dates or the locations and remove items that are resolved. There are also some nice meeting agenda templates on meeting agenda.org, if you don’t have an existing format to use. Agenda’s are critical to ensuring a productive meeting. And, as I said, are often overlooked. I believe it is the lack of an agenda, and a designated time keeper, and a meeting leader, that causes meetings to run over time and end without action items. Admittedly, there must be a commitment from the leadership of the group to adhere to the agenda, and it must be known that the agenda controls the flow of the meeting. But if those two things are in place, the outcome is likely to be much more productive and you will limit the time of your meetings.

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