Many feel that an effective meeting is at worst an oxymoron or at best a lost art form. No organization can function without meetings but most would function better if the sessions were more organized. Hosting a successful meeting involves several steps, such as defining the objective, eliminating distractions, encouraging participation and ending with an action plan. The key to making all of this possible is the meeting holy grail: the agenda.

Why do we need an agenda?

If the goal of your meeting is to keep it short, concise, productive and successful, an agenda will help you get there. Agendas reduce wasted time and resources by guiding the meeting. Attendees know what is going to be discussed in advance and have an established timeline so the meeting starts and ends on time. Agendas also encourage participation by giving the team time to think about the issues they want to address. Agendas give everyone a chance to prepare.

What should an agenda contain?

The primary purpose for an agenda is to inform participants about which topics will be covered. Agendas can also also include the location and date, start and end time of the meeting, attendees, time allocated to each topic as well as names of participants who will be leading each topic discussion.

Agenda items tend to fall into three main categories: informational, advisory and problem-solving. Informational items provide background to the attendees and participants usually only need to listen, understand and comply. Advisory items give participants the opportunity to share concerns and voice their opinions regarding the items being discussed. Problem solving involves brainstorming as a way to solve a problem and you need to gather ideas from the collective intelligence and expertise of the group.

Sticking to the agenda and creating an action plan

No matter how much time you spend developing the agenda, it will only be effective if you and your team follow it. Stick to your timeframe established for each topic. If a topic is taking longer than anticipated, table it for another meeting.

It’s also vital to capture action items so everyone will know what to do next. As each item is discussed, assign the follow-up action immediately. Don’t forget to assign due dates with clear expectations. This will keep your team accountable and productive.

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