Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 5, Issue 21;   May 25, 2005: An Agenda for Agendas

An Agenda for Agendas

by

Most of us believe that the foundation of a well-run meeting is a well-formed agenda. What makes a "well-formed" agenda? How can we write and manage agendas to make meetings successful?

Deanna hated chairing meetings. She looked around the room. "So, have we dealt with that item? Is everyone OK?" Nobody replied. Most were looking down at their pads or their coffee mugs. Dave continued peeling the label from his water bottle.

Water bottlesHaving waited long enough, Deanna continued, "I'll take that as a yes." But she thought to herself, 'This is so discouraging. Nobody cares.'

She might be right about that. And there's an alternative explanation, too. The agenda item she's asking about is simply, "Marigold." With such a vague and ambiguous statement of the agenda item, many on the team can't really tell whether they're free to express their concerns. Rather than risk being ruled out of order, some just sit quietly. Others are willing to move on because they just hate meetings.

Deanna and her team are suffering some of the consequences of stating agenda items ambiguously. How you express the agenda, and the order of the items, helps set expectations, which strongly influences the effectiveness of any meeting. Here are some tips for making effective agendas.

Phrase each agenda item as an imperative
For instance, not "Marigold" but "Resolve issues in Marigold." This sets a mental framework for attendees to actually do something.
Make agenda items specific
Phrasing each agenda item
as an imperative sets
a mental framework
for action
Not "Resolve issues in Marigold", but rather "Resolve staffing issues in Marigold." Make agenda items describe a goal that's objectively measurable.
Allocate time to each agenda item
If you don't allocate time, you won't be able to tell whether the meeting is running late or by how much.
Deal with overruns honestly
If an item takes longer than planned, don't steal time from other items. Halt discussion, and decide which later agenda item(s) you'll postpone or shift to committee.
Have a timekeeper
The facilitator has enough work to do, especially if the facilitator is also chair.
Exploit order
If one item is likely to smoke out information that will help other items — or render them moot — do it first.
Address emotionally charged items early
Charged items require energy, and they're also dangerous. Address them while everyone is fresh. Leaving them for the end as a way of managing time doesn't actually work. The tension will only build if you leave them for the end.
Poll everyone for contributions in advance
You don't want people bringing up new and possibly irrelevant or unaddressable items right at the start of the meeting. When you poll attendees for agenda items before you distribute your draft agenda, you find out where the energy is, and it's a big win to pick up important items you hadn't thought of. Move to the "Not-Agenda" any items you don't want to address or can't address.

Ironically, we tend to pay more attention to agendas for larger meetings. Smaller meetings actually require more care, because of the temptation to slip into informal conversation. I could go on about that, but it isn't on today's agenda. Go to top Top  Next issue: Paths  Next Issue

For more on agendas, see "Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda," Point Lookout for May 9, 2007; and "First Aid for Painful Meetings," Point Lookout for October 24, 2001.

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenTPJJgzeueCHBACDmner@ChacCxocQHBPcJhNVzBaoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Project Management:

Moving the goal postsAre You Changing Tactics or Moving the Goal Posts?
When we make a mid-course correction in a project, we're usually responding to a newly uncovered difficulty that requires a change in tactics. Sometimes, we can't resist the temptation to change the goals of the project at the same time. And that can be a big mistake.
Tape recorder AKAI GX-260DResuming Projects: Team Morale
Sometimes we cancel a project because of budgetary constraints. We reallocate its resources and scatter its people, and we tell ourselves that the project is on hold. But resuming is often riskier, more difficult and more expensive than we hoped. Here are some reasons why.
In-flight portrait of the Apollo 13 Environmental Control SystemProject Improvisation Fundamentals
Project plans are useful — to a point. Every plan I've ever seen eventually has problems when it contacts reality. At that point, we replan or improvise. But improvisation is an art form. Here's Part I of a set of tips for mastering project improvisation.
Robert F. Scott and three of his party arrive at a tent left by Roald Amundsen near the South PoleManaging Non-Content Risks: I
When project teams and their sponsors manage risk, they usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets things done.
The U.S. F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter lifts off for its first training sortie March 6, 2012, at Eglin Air Force Base, FloridaWishful Thinking and Perception: II
Continuing our exploration of causes of wishful thinking and what we can do about it, here's Part II of a little catalog of ways our preferences and wishes affect our perceptions.

See also Project Management, Effective Meetings and Effective Communication at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
"The Thinker," by Auguste RodinAnd on August 30: They Just Don't Understand
When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenwfYfgOnpXNyhmmGbner@ChacuqeIZeqKLBWkRKmpoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
On 14The Race to the Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to organizational leaders, business analysts, project sponsors, and project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some dates for this program:

Creating High Performance Virtual Teams
Many Creating High Performance Virtual Teamspeople experience virtual teams as awkward, slow, and sometimes frustrating. Even when most team members hail from the same nation or culture, and even when they all speak the same language, geographic dispersion or the presence of employees from multiple enterprises is often enough to exclude all possibility of high performance. The problem is that we lead, manage, and support virtual teams in ways that are too much like the way we lead, manage, and support co-located teams. In this program, Rick Brenner shows you how to change your approach to leading, managing, and supporting virtual teams to achieve high performance using Simons' Four Spans model of high performance. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
21st Century Business TravelAre your business trips long chains of stressful misadventures? Have you ever wondered if there's a better way to get from here to there relaxed and refreshed? First class travel is one alternative, but you can do almost as well (without the high costs) if you know the tricks of the masters of 21st-century e-enabled business travel…
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.