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.
Having 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
- 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. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Project Management:
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- Long-Loop Conversations: Asking Questions
- In virtual or global teams, where remote collaboration is the rule, waiting for the answer to a simple
question can take a day or more. And when the response finally arrives, it's often just another question.
Here are some suggestions for framing questions that are clear enough to get answers quickly.
- Ground Level Sources of Scope Creep
- We usually think of scope creep as having been induced by managerial decisions. And most often, it probably
is. But most project team members — and others as well — can contribute to the problem.
- More Limitations of the Eisenhower Matrix
- The Eisenhower Matrix is useful for distinguishing which tasks deserve attention and in what order.
It helps us by removing perceptual distortion about what matters most. But it can't help as much with
some kinds of perceptual distortion.
- Down in the Weeds: I
- When someone says, "I think we're down in the weeds," a common meaning is that we're focusing
on inappropriate — and possibly irrelevant — details. How does this happen and what can
we do about it?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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