Decoding Meeting Success: Using a Detailed Agenda

Decoding Meeting Success: Using a Detailed Agenda

Does it seem like you are always in a meeting (defined as 2 or more people coming together for business purposes)? Do you feel like you are not getting any “real work” done? Do you dread attending meetings because they are dull, unproductive, disorganized and too long? Whether you measure in terms of time, money or inspiration, holding meetings is an expensive activity. As a leader, meetings consume much of your calendar, and their results contribute to how productive you feel.

Successful meetings are the result of a disciplined mind-set, using the right tools, assigning roles and having the right skills.

Disciplined Mind Set

Start thinking and expect that meetings are a vehicle for accomplishing REAL, important work and making solid decisions. It takes effort to plan, prepare and run meetings. Incorporate these beliefs into your culture by only running your meetings in this manner and expect others to do the same. Tolerating unproductive meetings reinforces bad behavior and undesirable, frustrating results.

Right Tools and Clear Roles

Vistage speaker Mike Murray recently spoke to my groups about running effective meetings. Today, I want to share one of his tools for productive meetings: a detailed agenda.

 Consider this typical, vague agenda:

1. 2012 goals

2. HR issues

3. New Hires

4. Other and new business

If you read this agenda before the meeting, how would you prepare? What is the meeting about? From the items listed, it’s hard to know exactly what the will be discussed, let alone how and what to prepare. In addition, the organizer is sending a message: “this meeting is not important enough for me to spend time preparing adequately. I don’t care about it, and I don’t expect you to care either.”

The Detailed Meeting Agenda

The detailed meeting agenda provides clarity, purpose and structure. Here are some examples in the format suggested by Murray:

Topics Outcome Time Client Facilitator Resources Needed
QC Team recommendations on how to reduce rework Decision 30 minutes QC Team Leader Controller QC Project Report
Installation of new CRM software Planning 60 minutes Controller HR Manager Project Budget and Justification Report
Review new employee orientation results Information 10 minutes HR Manager IT Manager Summary report
How to keep organization updated regarding accounting and payroll policies Problem Solving 30 minutes Controller COO List of upcoming changes
New product rollout review Evaluation 30 minutes VP Operations CFO Original project plan.Financial analysis

Topics and Outcomes Formulate Structure

For a meeting to achieve your pre-determined outcome, you must clearly define it. Too often, people call a meeting to have a discussion without identifying what they are trying to achieve. Don’t be one of these people; clarify until hurts!

Be clear and descriptive about the topic and its expected outcomes. There are 5 possible outcomes for each topic:

1. Information. An individual shares an update or other information with the other participants. No other action is needed.

2. Options for solving a problem. This is an expansive process where the participants invent ways of achieving their desired change.

3. Decision. After developing several options in problem-solving mode, someone decides which option to implement. Do not mix problem-solving and decision discussions. Confusing these two different goals kills new ideas. Instead, clearly separate the discussions. Calling a break between the two topics clearly divides both discussions when they must occur in the same meeting.

4. A Plan. After making a decision, specific choices need to be made as to who is going to do what, and when.

5. Information to shape the future. After implementation of a plan, reviewing what went well and what didn’t is gathered with the intent of making the next implementation better.

Each type of desired outcome indicates what structure or process to use in that particular meeting. For example, brainstorming and other creative thinking processes are used to generate possibilities for a problem-solving outcome. That process is very different from the analytic and convergent one necessary to decide between options and make a decision. An evaluation discussion reviews what worked and opportunities for improvement in the future. It is a description of what happened without blame, and it uses a yet another process.


Always start the meeting on time, even if only a few individuals are there, and always end on time, too.

Indicate the approximate time allotted for each topic on the agenda. If a discussion is taking longer than planned, the facilitator should ask the participants how to revise the agenda so that the defined end time of the meeting is still honored.

Clear Roles: Name a Facilitator and Client for Each Topic

For each topic there is a client, facilitator and participant(s). The client owns the topic or problem. The facilitator keeps the group on track by following discussion processes. The participants are the people who have the expertise to offer suggestions, ideas, options, alternatives, insight, experience or energy.  Assign an individual who is content neutral, has some knowledge of group dynamics and has facilitation skills to lead each topic discussion.

Resources Required:

A clear list of what participants need to review and bring to the meeting.

Using the Agenda:

At the beginning of each meeting, review the agenda with the group and ask them if revisions are necessary.

A detailed agenda doesn’t just serve as a guide for running a successful meeting. It also serves as an important planning tool, ensuring that the people, resources and structure are appropriate for each meeting.

Nothing substitutes for face-to-face communication. Properly planned and run meetings save time, increase buy-in, generate new ideas and lead to good decisions. Change your mindset, discipline yourself to plan and clarify your goals by using a detailed agenda at your next meeting. Let me know how it works for you.


Recommended Reading

Death by Meeting: A Leadership Fable…About Solving the Most Painful Problem in Business (J-B Lencioni Series)Decoding Meeting Success: Using a Detailed Agenda, By Patrick Lencioni

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