5 Key Ingredients to Productive and Rewarding Meeting Agendas

Meetings can be fun (I promise!)

Are you stuck in an unproductive rut at work and feel like a lot of time and energy is being wasted in useless meetings? Well, you’re not alone — when surveyed, 71% of senior managers felt that the meetings they were in were unproductive and inefficient. It can feel like an insurmountable challenge to change the nature of your meetings, but the first step is assessing why your meetings aren’t always going as planned and not delivering the value you believe they should. The first place to look when trying to run more effective meetings is the agenda, or in some cases, a lack thereof. An agenda sets the tone and the direction of a meeting while also laying out clear expectations for what the outcome of the meeting should be.

A great agenda should contain the purpose of the meeting, the main topics of the meeting, time blocks to control the flow of the meeting, and a list of decisions that should be made by the end of the meeting.

In this post, we will walk through the key ingredients of a great meeting and explain how to add each element to your future agendas.

Key Ingredient #1: The Purpose

Before scheduling a meeting, it is critical to define why you are having the meeting in the first place. If it is unclear what the meeting will achieve or if the contributions of others will be of use, an email may suffice. It is important to remember that scheduling a meeting can have hidden costs. Calling a meeting that lacks a purpose won’t bring in any new value to your team and won’t outweigh the costs of holding this meeting. When determining why you are having a meeting, frame it in terms of what you plan to achieve. Walking into a meeting with a clear objective and expected outcomes will keep your meetings focused and purpose-driven. With a purpose set, answering the following key questions about your meeting will become far more straightforward.

As explained earlier, the meeting objective is the foundation that the whole meeting rests on, so it must be rock solid. With our purpose defined, we can start creating an agenda.

Crafting high-quality agenda items

When most people think of an agenda, they think of the list of topics that will be discussed during the meeting. Although true, this isn’t the complete picture. To supercharge your meeting agenda items, don’t simply write down a list of topics to discuss. Instead, write agenda items with three parts: the subject of the agenda item, a maximum amount of time allotted to this point to prevent the discussion from going on too long, and all required decisions that need to be made by the end of the agenda item or end of the meeting.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these components to understand how you can ensure that every agenda item you write is effective.

Key Ingredient #2: Topic/Subject

The topic or subject of each agenda item is essential to communicating what needs to be discussed and keeping the conversation focused. The topic should be clear and to the point so that anyone attending the meeting can glance at the item and understand what the discussion will be about. Additionally, an agenda is a record of what was discussed in a meeting and writing clear and concise topics for yourself later is critical if you ever need to revisit your meeting notes.

Key Ingredient #3: Time Allotment

We have all been in a meeting with six or so agenda items where the discussion gets stuck on the second item and only moves on five minutes before the meeting is scheduled to end. Setting a time allotment for each agenda item keeps the meeting running at a steady pace. Sometimes discussions around a single agenda item can go on for hours, but often the central arguments are discussed and acknowledged within the first 15 minutes of conversation. With a time limit, participants will focus on the pivotal points that could change the direction of a project and not on smaller, unimportant details of contention. When setting a time limit for your agenda item, give a generous amount of time to each point in case an interesting discussion does arise. And if not, shorter meetings are appreciated by everyone!

Key Ingredient #4: Required Decisions

The reason why companies have meetings at all is to organize people and resources towards common goals. The desired results from a meeting are that decisions about the team’s projects are made and clear action items are created for everyone to achieve their goals. Embedding the decisions needed right into your agenda expresses the expected result of that agenda item. Be sure to mention these decisions before starting the discussion to alert your team that a decision must be made.

To put this all together, let’s look at an example. Imagine that you are designing the navigation menu on your organization’s website, you may want to get some feedback from your team after creating a few options. For such a meeting, the agenda item pertaining to the navigation menu might look something like this:

  1. Discuss navigation menu options with the team. 10 minutes max. Decide which option to move forward with.

Now when you arrive at your meeting, you’ll know to keep the discussion relatively focused to go over everything within 10 minutes, and you’ll remember that the intended end result is an agreement on which version you should go with.

Key Ingredient #5: Getting Feedback

Before your meeting begins, reach out to the other participants with your agenda to very briefly discuss what should be added or removed. This will help improve your meetings in two major ways.

First, it will help you identify issues or missing information before it is noticed during the meeting.

Second, by having others critique your agenda, you provide yourself with a feedback loop to craft more efficient and effective agendas in the future.

When gathering feedback on your agenda, keep it focused on the purpose of the meeting. Others may want to add new agenda items to the list that are not relevant to this meeting’s purpose. As the person running and/or moderating the meeting, it is your job to choose what gets accomplished during this meeting and see it through.

Feedback shouldn’t be limited to just before a meeting. Some things only present themselves as problems when the meeting is underway and asking for feedback after the meeting can give you insight into why your agenda wasn’t perfect and what you can do to improve your future agendas. On top of improving your agenda, seeking feedback also provides an inclusive environment for your team. Many people report being unengaged in their meetings and small acts can make a difference in participation. Making an active effort to make meetings an equal playing field can help your team reap the rewards of each other’s best ideas.

If possible, try adding 5 minutes at the end of your next meeting to quickly go around the room and collect some feedback from everyone. Check out this article if you are interested in a proven method of collecting helpful feedback.

Bonus Ingredient! Using a Template

So you’ve learned how to write an amazing agenda, and you want to bring these ideas to your next meeting. Starting with a blank document for your agenda, minutes, and action items can get disorganized quickly, so it is often a good idea to set up a template for your meetings. You can either make your own template or look for a template online, but lucky for you we have a template right here for you to get started with. This template has space for your meeting purpose, agenda items, time slots, and decisions. This template will allow you to hit the ground running in your next meeting. It is also easily editable so you can tailor it to your individual needs.

Additionally, you can use tools like Knowtworthy to keep track of all of your team’s meetings and allow you to share your meeting’s agenda in real-time with your whole team.

In summary, an agenda isn’t just a list of items to discuss, but a developed and refined purpose for the meeting. The purpose guides how the rest of the agenda should be crafted and what should be addressed.

When building your agenda items, make sure to add a time allotment for each item to keep the meeting flowing and anticipate decisions that your team needs to produce by the end of the meeting. Before every meeting, check with your team to get feedback on your agenda and ensure that you are covering only what matters. Additionally, roping in the rest of the team will keep them engaged and strengthen your team dynamic as you all see your meeting productivity skyrocket.

And don’t forget to collect feedback at the end of key meetings because some problems aren’t detectable until you are already at the table. Now it’s time to have truly productive meetings!

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