The agenda is the key to a successful meeting – it is the roadmap, the guide, the plan. Studies have shown that up to 70% of meetings either have no agenda or have a poor agenda which is not helpful. In this article, you will see that there are some steps which you can take to make sure your agenda will contribute to making your meeting more productive. There are also hidden advantages. If the agenda is well constructed, you will also spend less time in the meeting and more time actually doing the things the meeting determines need to be done!
1. Remember the key – the more detailed the agenda, the more focussed and generally, the shorter the meeting will- be.
2. You cannot expect intelligent decisions if people do not have time to think through the issues before the meeting. Therefore, agendas need to be sent out in advance, not given out at the meeting. People who have genuine desire to reach the best decision, and people who are organised, always have their agendas distributed in time for people to give thought to the issues.
3. Adopt the strict policy that if an item is not on the agenda, it will not be discussed at the meeting. Do not allow items to be raised without notice. Allow only true emergency items to be exempt and allow no other exceptions. Organised people have no difficulty with this. It is only disorganised or "slack" people who object to this because they cannot get their act together. Research shows, that if an item is raised without notice, the meeting will spend time talking about it, but then defer the decision until the next meeting anyway when there is notice given. It just wastes time.
4. Have a "cut-off" time for agenda items and make sure everyone knows the cut-off time and then also "publish" the distribution time for the agenda. So, for example, it would work like this: The minute taker would let everyone know that items for the agenda must be with the minute taker by, say, noon on Wednesday, the agendas will be sent out (by the minute taker) at say, 4.00pm Wednesday (allowing time for the pre-meeting meeting with the chair) and the meeting will be held at 3.00pm Thursday. Everyone would know the timetable for every meeting and then no-one has any excuse not to follow the timetable.
A second example for clarity: Let everyone know the cut-off time for agenda items is, say, noon on the third Thursday. The agenda will be emailed or faxed by close of business that same day, for the meeting on the following Monday.
5. Once you have all of the above in place, then you can eliminate business without notice. This is often called "general business" or "other business". Modern meetings and the most competent chairs of meetings, adopt the practice – "if it isn't on the agenda then it isn't discussed". Everyone has the same opportunity to put anything they want to on the agenda so no-one is disadvantaged.
6. Insert an agenda item immediately after Confirmation of the minutes – "Action Status Report". In this report (which is written, not verbal) you list the current status of every item of action which is outstanding, as well as the completed items assigned at the last meeting. The minute taker would prepare this document immediately before
Example status statements are: Completed, Not yet started, 70% completed, Completion expected in 3 days, Stalled – require resources, Stalled - Awaiting information or responses, Waiting for CEO's signature, etc.
7. Once you have the Action Status Report in place, then you can eliminate Business Arising from the Minutes. Many people think that Business Arising from the minutes is going through every item on the last minutes and asking if there is anything to be said. This is a complete waste of time. Everything which would normally appear in business arising would either be in the Action Status report or will be worthy of an agenda item in its own right.
8. Sort all correspondence into 3 categories – 1 – junk, 2 – For information only, 3 – Decision required and then eliminate correspondence as an item on the agenda.
Correspondence in category 1, (junk) should be disposed of. Correspondence in category 2 (For Information) should be placed in a manila folder or ring binder file and passed around the meeting for people to look at as the meeting progresses. There is no need to list it in the minutes. Correspondence in category 3 (Decision required) should each be listed on the agenda as a separate item – every decision as a separate item - so they can be dealt with at an appropriate time and in an appropriate way.
Outward correspondence has been sent – there is little to be gained by discussing letters which have been sent. Outward correspondence can be listed in the Action Status Report as its own item. It is pointless to confirm or ratify outgoing correspondence – it has been sent!
9. Place a (D) or an (I) next to every agenda item indicating whether it is a decision required item (D) or an information item (I).
10. Do not allow verbal reports without a written summary. Insist that every report is written and preferably no more than one page. That report is then included in the minutes. (It is not the minute takers job to write notes about someone's report – it is up the person giving the report to provide their report for the minute taker to include.) The most effective chairs of meetings do not allow verbal reports unless they are accompanied by a written summary.
The next point is by far the most important. Make sure you adopt this and your meetings will run effectively and efficiently.
11. Finally, and most important, ensure that every agenda item shows clearly what is required from that item being on the agenda – not just a vague topic. Every agenda item needs to be expanded so that every person at the meeting knows clearly exactly what is required at the end of discussion on that item. Fort example, an item may require that a "decision to be made on which software the organisation will buy;" or a second example, "decision required on whether or not to employ an extra admin person;" or a third, "decision required on whether to extend the funding for the Acme Project and if so, by how much". Once you have this in place, then your meetings will run smoothly and be much more focused.
About the Author:
David Julian Price is known by his clients as "Mr Meetings". He trains, coaches and consults with organisations in Australia and throughout the world on every aspect of meetings, particularly taking minutes, chairing meetings, managing and organising meetings to get results, and governance. David is an internationally qualified Corporate Governance Professional. He can be contacted at http://www.davidprice.com or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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