In the US, 63% of meetings happen without agendas (yikes!) — and yet without them, meetings can turn into unfocused and unproductive affairs. And that loss of productivity will cost your business — unproductive meetings will cost enterprises $399 billion a year. In fact, before you set a meeting, it can be useful to consider whether or not you really need a meeting at all (thankfully, you can use this handy infographic to help you decide).
If you do set a meeting, an effective agenda could help to sharpen focus and strengthen workflows by keeping everyone on point and keeping meetings short. Not only that, but having a good agenda streamlines the note-taking process, makes it easier to organize feedback, and analyze takeaways to create concrete action plans.
Something as straightforward as theme, time, and speaker can be an easy place to start:
- Theme: What’s the theme or discussion point?
- Time: How much time is allotted for this discussion point?
- Speaker: Who is leading this part of the discussion?
But making an effective meeting agenda isn’t as simple as it sounds — it’s not just a list of discussion points that need brainstorming. You need to have some solid guidelines to create an agenda that will engage your participants, use everyone’s time well, and leave attendees with actionable items after the meeting.
Here are some good tips to follow for creating an effective meeting agenda, including a look at some MURAL meeting agenda templates.
5 tips for creating effective meeting agendas
Get feedback from others on the agenda before it’s set
A successful agenda is one that all teammates work with. When sending the meeting invite to the entire team, ask what agenda items they would like to see in the meeting. This data will help you cut out unnecessary meetings as well by informing you of topics that everyone wants to be discussed, as opposed to niche topics you create without feedback.
Related: 5 Ways to Make Meetings More Collaborative
Feedback from your employees lets them feel appreciated and recognized. When asked in a Globoforce report whether they would work harder if their efforts were better recognized and appreciated, 69% responded yes.
Send the agenda and meeting topics out at least two hours before the meeting and ask for feedback. When taking meeting minutes or creating summaries, have the note taker identify when an issue is brought up but not discussed, so you can add it as a meeting agenda item next time.
The more your colleagues are engaged and active in the meeting, the better the connection will be across your team, fostering a sense of ownership and direction that builds confidence and cohesion.
Assign each agenda item to a designated team member
In order to give your agenda items any importance, someone needs to take action with those agenda topics and develop next steps. Without this acknowledgment of responsibility, your attendees will see the whole meeting as pointless. Your team will take notice, too — according to one survey, 67% of teams see a clear agenda as a sign of a “good” meeting, while 46% (hard to believe it’s not more) say “people talking about nothing for long periods of time” makes a bad meeting.
This helps the team feel confident that someone is now responsible for the agenda item and opens up lines of communication with that person for future discussions. Inclusion and shared ownership are not only good for your company’s morale, but engaged employees also increase productivity by 21%.
Make sure every agenda item illustrates the person responsible for that item. Using a guide like this Meeting Notes Template from MURAL can help you document agendas, track decisions, and detail action items.
Reframe objectives as questions
Make sure that your agenda items contain easy-to-understand objectives. Ask yourself, “what is this agenda item trying to accomplish?”
Write agenda items as questions. This lends clarity to the agenda item, and reframing the topic as a question (or questions) helps you drill down to the purpose of the review. It also invites more participation from the leaders in each department and fosters collaboration by sharing information.
Instead of the agenda item "employee reviews," try "how can we improve the review process this cycle?"
Give each agenda item a timeframe
When a meeting time runs too long, participants lose focus, and many people find themselves either multitasking or simply “checking out.” Companies are taking notice. Microsoft reports that the number of short team meetings (30 minutes or less) increased by 22%, while long meetings (greater than 1 hour) decreased by 11%.
Set an agenda time limit, or use meeting templates from MURAL with the timer feature, which can regulate the amount of time for each item and help teams stay focused and on schedule. If you realize you need more time for an agenda item, you can add extra time on the fly in increments of one or five minutes.
You can notify participants when you start the timer, if you add time or pause the clock, and when the time is up, so everyone stays in sync. This will ensure that you have enough time to let everyone voice their opinion on discussion topics and strengthen cooperative teamwork on remote teams.
Turn your agenda items into action items
The goal of the meeting (and its agenda) doesn’t go away after the meeting is over. Create an agenda that has actionable items in order for the meeting to have any substance. Take the agenda and create a list of items that need to have a follow-up discussion.
A good way to do this is to develop a digital space to meeting follow-ups like this Jobs To Be Done Worksheet Template. This template can help you extract core tasks that need to be done out of your agenda items. You can then take those tasks and figure out the steps you need to take to accomplish each.
Related: 5 Tips for Holding Effective Post-Mortems
A retrospective (or post-mortem) session after any meeting is important. It lets you gain insight into what went right, what went wrong, and what improvements can be implemented in your next meetings. It helps to craft better agendas for future meetings and allows meeting participants to cooperate and suggest feedback in an atmosphere of collaboration.
The bottom line: be mindful of your team's schedules
According to a survey by Doodle.com, a scheduling software company, 26% of professionals stated that poorly organized meetings impacted client relationships, while 43% feel they create confusion in the workplace, and 44% believe poorly run meetings affect their ability to do their work.
Don’t feed into the negative culture of poorly run meetings. As companies look for cost-cutting measures to offset the effects of the pandemic, one small way is to make sure you’re holding productive meetings and not wasting anyone’s time.
A short, concise, well-organized meeting with a useful and actionable agenda will shave precious hours from your workweek and give your teams a sense of inclusion, shared ownership, and collaborative energy.
For even more tips, including a checklist for a well-planned meeting, head on over to Your Meeting Prep Checklist for Better Collaboration.