Meetings are something I’ve been thinking about a TON lately. At work we’re always striving to improve our processes and meetings are part of that improvement. How can we make them more useful? More efficient? Do we even need so many meetings?
I’ve covered the basics of planning a meeting, so today I’m going to get into how to put together a great meeting agenda. Sounds super boring, but this is the stuff that really gets me going. Writing a good meeting agenda (or outline–however you want to think about it) sets the tone and expectations for a meeting. A good agenda let’s everyone know what’s up and what you’re hoping to get out this thing.
What is the main goal of this meeting?
Having a clear goal for your meeting seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at what people think is passable for a “meeting agenda.” “Sort out how we use fonts” seems like a pretty clear goal, yea? WRONG. What fonts do you mean? In relationship to what? Are we auditing the way we use fonts in our products today, or are we figuring out how we want to use them in the future? So many questions…
If you can’t explain the main objective clearly and concisely in one sentence, then you really need to think about why you’re scheduling this meeting. Having a focused idea of what the group is hoping to achieve during this meeting helps keep everyone moving in the same direction.
Okay, so you have a clear goal set for this meeting: is it achievable in the time you’ve allotted for this meeting? If you have any doubts about this, consider whether this meeting should be longer (ugh) or broken into two meetings (with separate and distinct goals). By breaking it up, you ensure there’s ample time to discuss the project and come to a consensus by the end of it. Ideally, you don’t want to be finishing this conversation in the hallway or reschedule to (hopefully) finish the conversation later after everyone has had time to forget what was covered.
Why did you invite these people?
So you invited the people you think are relevant to this conversation. You know why they’re here, do they know why they’re here? Chances are they probably have an idea, but, more often than not, their idea is kinda wrong.
Going through the exercise of writing down everyone you invited and what their role is in this conversation will keep everyone in-the-loop about who’s doing what and what you expect of them during the meeting. You might also find that you’ve invited someone who doesn’t really need to be there, or you’ve left someone out that might have something to contribute.
Bonus: Ask one of these people to be the official note-taker! It’ll make them feel uber important and you won’t have to lead the meeting AND write everything down. Win-win! 👍
Who is the decision maker here?
During this discussion, who makes the *final* decisions? It’s probably you. I mean, you scheduled this thing, wrote the agenda and got everyone in the same room. Making it clear who makes decisions keeps the conversation from going in circles and makes sure there’s someone to make a decision when we just need to get on with it.
All meetings should have a clear decision maker. [Kristen Gil, Google VP of Business Operations] credits this approach to helping the Google+ team ship over 100 new features in the 90 days after launch. Source.
Okay, now you need to write down what you’re hoping to cover during this meeting, and bullet-points are your best friends here. Write brief statements about each part of the discussion and who is leading that segment, even if it’s you. Nothing is worse than getting to the meeting and having the awkward exchange of “who is going to present” when you thought it was the designer and they thought you had everything you needed. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Okay, there are things worse than that, but you get what I’m saying.
This agenda should also include when you expect to hear feedback or discussion from everyone, that way they’re not interrupting you with their questions and ideas when you’re just about to get to that part.
Time to wrap this bitch up.
Okay, you’ve successfully presented information, had civil discussion, and come to some agreements about what should be done. I have discovered (at least) two ways you can approach this final part of the meeting, and you may even elect to use both. Your call.
☝️️ Everyone goes around the table and states what their next steps are and what kind of timelines they’re looking at. This way it’s coming right from their mouth, and everyone can leave with the knowledge that things are being taken care of and nothing is falling through the crack of “I thought *you* were doing that.”
The exercise [of going around the table and reviewing everyones action steps] also breeds a sense of accountability. If you state YOUR action steps in front of YOUR colleagues, then YOU are likely to follow through. Scott Belsky, Behance Team
✌️️ Send out a follow-up email (or Google Doc or Dropbox Paper or whatever thing your company uses) with notes from the meeting. This email should include actionable items, who is responsible for each, and what the timelines are. This email is great because now it’s been documented and can be referenced in the future–there are no grey areas.
This may seem like overkill, and for some teams it probably is. Do what’s best for your situation, but having some structure to your approach helps get everyone moving in the same direction a lot quicker and with less confusion than hoping everyone took their own notes and knows what their next steps are. If you just invest a bit of effort upfront, you can save yourselves time and sanity in the long run.
We’ve been rolling out these guidelines to our own teams, and I can tell you that meetings that have a good agenda go so much more smoothly than the ones that don’t. I can go into those meetings confident that I know what’s expected of me and what I’m hoping to take away.
I’m always looking for ways to make our process better, so if you’ve got something to add let me know in the comments.