Don’t Run the Meeting, Just Create the Agenda

25 Sep
by Bridget DiCello

Meetings can be painful, and it can be like pulling teeth to get people to come prepared, listen to what you have to say and actively and constructively participate.

You don’t want to feel like you must run all the meetings? Great! Set the agenda, and let it run the meeting. The key to that strategy is to have an effective agenda.

An effective agenda:

  1. Starts strong and specific. This may be the only section that you, as the leader, need to lead. Open the meeting, thank them for coming, share some positive news, deal with an elephant in the room, and in general, get anything out of the way that will impede the meeting. Reinforce that the meeting will follow the agenda.
  2. Has very specific objectives. These are the 1-3 things that need to be accomplished in the meeting.   This is not, “Review sales this month,” but it may be, “Create a specific plan, with roles for each person, to increase next month’s sales by 50% using historical information.”
  3. Includes clear agenda items. Instead of “Last Month’s Leads,” you might specify: “September Leads: Number, Origin, Closing Ratio, comparison to August 2012 and September 2011.” Although this seems very detailed and you may feel your team members “should” know and come prepared, don’t “should” all over them. It is easier to make the list when you make the agenda, than to deal with their unpreparedness during the meeting.
  4. Assigns specific responsibilities to team members and requires participation.
    Example agenda item: September Leads – Patty, Bob, Greg each report on their numbers in the areas specified.
  5. Runs the meeting. You may need to project it on a screen or write it on a white board, but have somewhere you can point to when everyone looks at you for direction. It is so much easier for someone to tell you as the meeting leader that they aren’t prepared and ask you for sympathy than if everyone is working off an agreed-upon and pre-communicated agenda present for everyone to see.
  6. Is sent out ahead of time. Communicate your expectations about the interaction you expect. “Attached is the agenda for our sales meeting. I’m looking forward to hearing each of your reports. Please pull your numbers ahead of time and be prepared to make conclusions and suggest approaches based on your data in order to achieve our goal of increasing sales by 50% next month.” If that is a new concept, be sure to check in with them prior to the first meeting, just in case they are shell-shocked that you expect preparation.
  7. Redirects vagueness and attempts to escape responsibility. If the participants are expected to report on five areas and only report on three, you can address that later with them directly. That is easier than addressing a situation where they failed to participate or were disruptive, which are much more general performance issues.

Offer your wisdom in response to each participant’s presentation. Spend your time sharing insights that you have as the leader, the collator of information and the one with the big picture, years of experience and understanding of the dynamics of the team. This is a much more powerful role than being the meeting’s logistical excuse-receiver. Let the effective agenda run the meeting. If you spend the time before the meeting preparing, the meeting will be more productive, everyone’s time will be better spent, progress will be made and you can change the culture of meetings, and expectation of productivity in your organization.

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