Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 7, Issue 19;   May 9, 2007: Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda

Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda

by

In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met — and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need a program.

Telecommuting, virtual teams, outsourcing, and globalization have all contributed to increased incidence of virtual meetings between people who never meet face to face, or at least, haven't met face to face yet. For these meetings, a simple agenda isn't enough, because people need to know more about each other to work effectively together. To make the meeting more productive, distribute a program — not just an agenda.

Handbill for the exhibition of Manet's The Execution of Emperor Maximilian

Handbill for the exhibition of Manet's "The Execution of Emperor Maximilian," (now in the Kunsthalle Mannheim) in New York in December 1879. At the time, the handbill (which we now are more likely to call a "leaflet") was a favored means of advertising. The publication now known as Playbill first appeared in 1884, invented in this form by Frank Vance Strauss, though handbills had been used to advertise plays since Shakespeare's time. Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Pattern your meeting program after the programs of sporting events, plays, the opera or ballet. Playbill is an example. Since the program is replacing the agenda, it must, at a minimum, serve the function of the agenda. But you can also include background enrichment material of all kinds. Here are some ideas for your programs.

Links to exhibits
If the meeting includes discussions or reviews of exhibits — contracts, reports, diagrams, audios, videos, and so on — attendees have to review them beforehand. Include links to these items. Or for the convenience of attendees, combine all exhibits into a zip archive to make downloading easy.
Links to MP3s or MPEGs of attendees talking
In telephone conferences, being able to recognize each other's voices is a big advantage. But since recognizing the voice of someone you've never met is difficult, have everyone make recordings introducing themselves. Video is great, but audio helps too. Give everyone an opportunity to see and listen to each other before the meeting.
Bios and contact information
Bios of all attendees help them establish relationships before the meeting begins, especially if some haven't attended this particular meeting before. Let people write their own bios. Professional bios help everyone understand each other's area of expertise. But personal details help too, because they give everyone little insights about each other as people.
Recognition
In telephone conferences,
being able to recognize
each other's voices
is a big advantage
If a team or team member made an outstanding contribution recently, or received recognition for any reason, play it up. Most of us like to see our names in lights.
Project successes, vision, and history
Include a little summary of past successes and what the future holds. This helps keep people fixed on the goal. It's an opportunity not to be missed.
Site imagery and videos
Familiarity with the sites where people work helps people "place" each other in a context. It gives them a setting in which to imagine the other people attending the meeting, which is especially important for telephone meetings. If you're holding the meeting as an off-site, provide history and information about local attractions.

Your meeting program, like all documents, is subject to your organization's document retention and destruction policies. Since it's a compound document (it might not reside in a single place), and since it might consist of a mixture of media, check with your document retention specialist to make sure that you understand the policy before you create the program. If you can conform to requirements, using a program instead of an agenda can make a real difference in your meetings. Go to top Top  Next issue: Virtual Termination with Real Respect  Next Issue

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!

For more on agendas, see "An Agenda for Agendas," Point Lookout for May 25, 2005; and "First Aid for Painful Meetings," Point Lookout for October 24, 2001.

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Many of the difficulties we encounter when working together don't create long-term harm, but they do cause delays, confusion, and frustration. Here's Part II of a little catalog of tactics for avoiding speed bumps. Available here and by RSS on November 30.
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Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.

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