Sorting out the outcomes on the agenda makes a meeting much easier to manage: if you don’t really know why you are discussing something, it is quite difficult to know whether or not you should be extending or cutting the conversation. This is why many discussions run on for far longer than they need to.
Because we are already clear about the purpose of a particular discussion, it is now much easier to:
- assess how long the item is likely to take in a meeting;
- judge whether the cost/benefit of using this time is worthwhile (and if not, deal with the issue outside the meeting);
- take decisions during the meeting about cutting the discussion or allocating more time.
If it is desirable (as it usually will be!) to keep the meeting to a specified time, some planning is required. This has already been made easier by assigning outcomes to each of the agenda items. The next step is to allocate expected timings to the agenda before it is circulated to the team.
To complete the agenda, allow time at the start of the meeting to review and, if necessary, modify the agenda. ‘Any Other Business’ should be raised at the start of the meeting and planned in to the meeting, not at the end when it is too late to do this.
And finally, remember to allocate time for meeting breaks – either short stretch or comfort breaks, or longer breaks for refreshments. Building these explicitly into the agenda will help maintain everyone’s energy and attention.
This is an example of an agenda for a formal meeting. The content looks arduous, but before this type of agenda was introduced meetings often over-ran by hours.
This is an example of an agenda for an informal project meeting. Although the content is far less well-defined, the clarity of objectives and timings, together with pro-active management meant these meetings consistently achieved their outcomes within the specified times.