What Makes a Good Meeting Agenda?

This post is part 1 of 8 in the series Make Meetings Work

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If you run meetings, then you need an agenda. It’s not a surprise, though, how many meetings go ahead without an agenda! (No wonder they don’t really work…!) Here are some tips that will help you put together an A* agenda for your next meeting.

A meeting agenda is YOUR powerful tool to ensure that your meeting achieves its aim. But wait a minute – do you know what the aim of your meeting is? Modern business is plagued by a fixation on meetings. And what I’ve discovered is that meetings are held, week-in, week-out, without a clear purpose. Without a clear agenda. Agendas help steer a meeting effectively towards the goal, but first we gotta know what that goal is. So onto…

Step One: Be Clear About the Purpose of the Meeting

If this isn’t clear, then cancel the meeting straight away! Our meetings must have a desired outcome. E.g. agree an action, make a decision, communicate change. The purpose should be easy to articulate and specific enough so that all attendees know what it’s about. For example:

‘Bad’ purpose: listen to what people have to say about product X.

Good’ purpose: gather feedback about product X, and then agree a list of prioritized actions to be performed by the team.

‘Bad’ purpose: to share information about team activity.

‘Good’ purpose: to monitor team activities and agree any management interventions required.

One way to look at it is to take your current meeting ‘purpose’ and then consider: does this meeting actually result in something that can then be carried out?

Step Two: Then Create the Agenda

Once you’re crystal clear about what your meeting is for, you can then begin to put the agenda together. Your agenda should have to following components:

  • Date/time/location
  • Attendees & other participants – and state who should be present at which agenda item, if not all
  • Absentees/apologies – it’s always helpful to state who you know WON’T be there, as this may cause the meeting to be postponed
  • Agenda items, to include:
  • Agenda item (title and description)
  • ‘Inputs’ – any documentation to be used in the agenda item
  • Desired outcome (decision, action, or shared information)
  • Agenda item duration
  • Agenda item owner(s)

  • Chairperson
  • Minute taker (see Minute-Taking, Made Easy) – to be agreed upfront
  • Distributing Your Agenda

    I recommend that you distribute your agenda as soon as you can. Why? Because:

    • It gives people enough chance to prepare agenda items, inputs and any supporting material
    • It gives people chance to challenge the agenda, its purpose and participants
    • It allows people to consider the appropriateness of the meeting without absent attendees
    • It allows enough time to get the meeting into attendee’s diaries

    I also suggest you don’t just send the agenda to participants only, but also to anyone else who needs to be informed, such as department heads, supporting staff and people who have made their apologies upfront.

    A Note On ‘Quick’/’Heads-Up’ Meetings

    Not all meetings require a formal agenda, but nevertheless, a quick meeting still needs a purpose. These meetings work well when everything above holds true, even if it’s communicated quickly in a few statements. For meetings to be effective, participants need time to prepare and get into the ‘zone’ of the meeting, ie. putting aside current tasks so they can focus on your meeting.

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