“Think of the agenda as a device to focus your meeting. A meeting with no agenda will have no focus and the results will be fuzzy. Too many side issues slip into consideration and, finally, like the famous Caucus Race witnessed by Alice in her Wonderland dream, all the attendees end up chasing each other around in circles.”

Clyde Burleson in Effective Meetings: The Complete Guide, John Wiley & Sons, NY, 1990.

In our last blog post we discussed meeting agendas and how important they are to the effective management of a meeting. Here are few extra ideas and bits of information that we found interesting and wanted to share with you!

Here’s an idea

In your agenda, consider providing a SWEET objective for each topic under discussion – i.e:

-Sensible – challenging, realistic, achievable

-Written – providing a clear record of intent

-Easy-to-understand – jargon-free, clear, precise

-Easy-to-measure – you’ll know when the agenda objective has been completed

-Task related – expresses in clear terms the task that has to be done.

-For example, if the topic is marketing, the objective may be ‘to consider and discuss the presentations made by external consultants and to select the campaign we intend to use’.

-In this way, participants will know what is expected of them and, at the end of the meeting, will be able to judge -whether or not the objective has been achieved.

After Lisa Davis, Shortcuts for Smart Managers, AMACOM, NY, 1998, p. 187.

Here’s an idea

Transform meetings by developing a set of ground rules which will make these gatherings far more productive:

Agenda items:

  • The executive team will screen, limit, and prioritise agenda items.
  • All ‘information only’ items are to be provided as typed handouts.
  • Times are to be set and indicated for each presenter.
  • Time is to be allotted for discussion of each item by participants.
  • If new agenda items come up during the meeting, they are to be assigned to the next meeting with a presenter.

Time limitations:

  • Comments on issues and items are to be limited to 1-2 minutes per person per turn.
  • Discussion on any item is to be limited to 15 minutes.
  • Meetings are to be limited to 1hr 20 min.

Participants must:

  • respond professionally and respectfully.
  • stay focussed on the issue.
  • make their points briefly and succinctly.
  • comment only on items that pertain to the entire group.

A facilitator or monitor whose job it is to enforce the above rules is appointed.


Use this three-step method to create agendas

Every meeting should have an agenda to make sure it moves quickly along and accomplishes everything it’s supposed to accomplish. Here is a fast way to build a meeting agenda:

  1. List every item you want to cover.
  2. Prioritize the items, and list the most important items first, so they get taken care of at the start of the meeting when everyone is focused.
  3. Estimate how long it should take to complete each item, setting a specific time limit for discussion.


Finalising an item on the agenda

After discussion of an agenda item by the participants, the chair can use the following three-step procedure close the item by:

  • summarising what has been agreed to.
  • ensuring that action has been defined – what is to be done, by whom and by when
  • checking that the recorder has listed the information.


Beware of ‘Any other business’

The open ‘Any other business’ item on a formal meeting agenda can be a minefield, ready to explode when everyone is tired and ready to leave. In preparing for a meeting, if something is worth discussing, it should specifically appear on the agenda at the start of the meeting. Sometimes, late additions to an agenda can be the springboard for the settling of old scores, the resurfacing of previous grudges, and lengthy complaints raised to sabotage the group’s achievements.

To avoid AOB derailing your meeting, consider a policy which includes:

  • Agenda items should be called for in advance of the meeting or with the circulation of a draft agenda.
  • Any participant with a late business item should contact the chair in advance before the meeting begins to seek its inclusion on the agenda.
  • Any late inclusions should be at the chair’s discretion.
  • At the start of the meeting, the chair will indicate any changes to the original agenda, with revised timings.
  • No other additions should be allowed at this point.
  • The words ‘Any other business’ should not appear on the agenda sheet.

Robert Burns: Making Meetings Happen, Business & Publishing, Sydney 2000.


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