Without question, a highly effective meeting agenda is both art and science. It keeps meetings productive and participants fully engaged. It inspires attention, action, and accountability.
A poor agenda, or having meetings without one at all, leads to wasted time. Meeting for meeting’s sake keeps people from actually doing their jobs. Moreover, it creates discontent that could make your employees want to become someone else’s.
What you put on a meeting agenda is extremely important. But what you don’t put on one may be equally so. Here are five things that should not appear on your meeting agenda.
1. Vague or Underdeveloped Items
Call to order, attendance, new business, old business, announcements, adjourn is the format for many meeting agendas. But it’s not a good one because it’s far too vague. In fact, if this is your agenda, there’s no telling where your meeting will wander and for how long.
The first step in knowing what to omit from an agenda is to know the elements of a great meeting agenda. Topics, talking points, supporting documents, decisions that need to be made, and assignments provide the structure. From there, the person who owns the meeting needs to flesh out the specific details that provide focus.
For example, instead of just listing “strategic plan update” as an agenda item, hone in on something specific. You can address one of the opportunities identified in the plan. Then, discuss what the team is doing to take advantage of it.
Leave underdeveloped items off the agenda as well to keep the focus on specifics. Underdeveloped topics are better handled in brainstorming sessions, which require a different type of agenda. Firm up and develop those ideas, then you can put them on a future meeting agenda.
2. Too Many Topics to Cover in One Meeting
Various sources agree that the maximum meeting length should be 45 minutes. In fact, a time limit may be one of the few predictable components of a meeting. If you exceed that mark, eyes will begin glazing over throughout the room.
Use that time standard to plan an agenda that can be completed within it. Figure out which topics must be covered now and schedule a time limit for each step on the agenda. If you have more topics than time, leave them off.
You won’t have time to discuss all the issues affecting the team’s ability to meet a deadline on two different client projects. Pick the project with the earlier deadline so you have time to fully address it. Tackle the initiative with the later deadline in a subsequent meeting.
If you need to eliminate topics, schedule separate meetings to address them. That way, every topic gets the focused time and attention it needs. Sometimes, less really is more.
3. Topics Unrelated to the Purpose of the Meeting
You’ve probably endured more than one meeting that was called to address one topic but ended up discussing something entirely different. It’s like buying tickets to “Hamilton” and seeing “Escape to Margaritaville” instead.
To avoid losing your meeting audience, delete any items on the agenda that aren’t germane to the topic at hand. You want to build the expectation of what will be addressed so people can prepare for it. Furthermore, you don’t want to confuse them with miscellany once they’re there.
Say you’re meeting to discuss the threat assessment identified in your strategic plan. Don’t tack on an agenda item about planning for the holiday party. Keep the focus where it needs to be so everyone is on the same page.
Unrelated items may need to be addressed. Just make sure you add them to meeting agendas they actually relate to. That way, everyone involved will get exactly what they signed up for.
4. Too Much Information
Topics that don’t require the time and attention of all meeting participants shouldn’t appear on the agenda. Of course, assignments and reporting will involve only certain people, not all. But the agenda items should relate to topics where everyone at the meeting plays a certain role.
If you look at your agenda and see something that’s the purview of only one or two attendees, take it off. Instead, schedule a time to meet with only those to whom the topic is relevant. Don’t make everyone sit through a conversation that excludes them.
For example, Jane and Jamal are working on a special project for you. If you want a progress update on that project, meet with them. Avoid asking them to report on it at a team meeting until the project affects the work of the entire team.
Moreover, omit any topics that touch on any personal issue, such as individual job performance. Those discussions should be handled privately rather than aired in front of everyone. Taking care of such business in a single meeting may be convenient for you but inappropriate for everyone else.
5. Anything That Can Be Handled in an Email
The great thing about emails is their ability to limit disruption. Recipients can read them when they have time, not just when it’s convenient for the sender. Moreover, emails provide a detailed written record recipients can refer to as often as necessary.
If you have a lot of questions or want to solicit feedback on a particular topic, email is a great vehicle. An email puts the onus on you to collect responses, assess them, and draw conclusions. It’s a great bit of advance work you can do before placing the topic on a meeting agenda.
For example, say you have the first draft of a proposal for a prospective client pitch. You could attach the draft to an email and ask team members to provide feedback. You then assimilate the feedback into a more final draft, which you can discuss in a subsequent team meeting.
As a rule of thumb, if an email will accomplish what a meeting would, go with the email. Not only will team members appreciate not having another meeting on their schedules, their input may also be more thoughtful and constructive.
When creating productive meeting agendas, everyone benefits if you use time-tested templates to help structure them. A solid template will definitely help you figure out what to include. Just don’t forget that, sometimes, it’s what you leave off an agenda that renders a meeting more worthwhile. Absence may make those at the meeting grow fonder about being there.