Meetings: Why Do We Need An Agenda?
December 16, 2010 22 Comments
You may ask “why do we need an agenda? We all know what we are going to discuss.” Preparing the agenda takes time and in some meetings people do not even look at it. The agenda is a contract between the meeting participants during the meeting. They are committed to the time allocated for each discussion item and they agree on what to (or not to) discuss. Some people are professional in hijacking the meeting. They will steer the discussion to a subject not in the agenda and consume the meeting time to discuss their personal agenda. Most of the time they will start with a shocking or outrages comment that grab everybody’s attention then direct a question to one of the participants (or the meeting chairperson) to answer. When they finish the discussion on that subject the will say “A similar situation or maybe worse is about ….” and the discussion will continue to serve their personal agenda. They would consume most of the meeting’s time before anybody could notice it. The best solution for such people is to say “I am sure this is an important subject that you are bringing to the meeting, but it is not listed in the agenda. We will schedule it at the end of the meeting or you may ask for a separate meeting to give it the time it deserves.”
One of the first signs of a good meeting is a well written agenda. The agenda should have the title of the meeting (the subject) and the start and end time. The exact location for the meeting should be clearly stated. You will need a map with clear directions (like Google maps) if some of the meeting participants are new to the meeting location. The agenda should have a list of the discussion items written in simple and clear language. Please avoid the trade lingo, slang, abbreviations or general statements like “Discuss the situation in XYZ” you may know what is the situation and what is XYZ but other participants may not know or could misunderstood both of them. Estimate how long each item in the list will take and record it next to it. The participants will know how much time is available for that item and be ready to finish their discussion within the available time. They can call and ask for extra time before the affirming the agenda or at least before the meeting could start. Always add 5-10 minutes at the end of the agenda for new items but please do not allow for more than that. If the new item needs more time then schedule a new meeting for that new item.
The meeting participants can read the agenda and prepare themselves for the discussion by researching the subject and preparing important documents (tables, drawings or maps) to support their argument. without the agenda some participants would answer “I did not know that you are going to discus XYZ subject, I am to ready to discuss it, I will come back tot you on …”