The agenda is the key to a successful meeting – it is the roadmap, the guide, the plan. Studies have shown that up to 70% of meetings either have no agenda or have a poor agenda which is not helpful. If the agenda is well constructed, you will spend less time in the meeting and more time actually doing the things the meeting determines need to be done! Remember the key – the more detailed the agenda, the more focused and generally, the shorter the meeting will be.

What is the problem with most agendas?

  1. First we tend to put our agendas together based on custom rather than good management.
  2. The second major problem with the agendas is that they tend to be organised in the wrong way. Many agendas try to put the minor things first, leading up to the major items, and it should be the reverse.  Agendas should be priority based, most important first, the least important last. I know an organisation that organises its agendas into three categories: Must Do Items, Should Do Items, and Nice To Do Items, and it works very well.  The organisation rarely gets on to the nice to do items and in reality it doesn’t matter, if it did matter, they wouldn’t be in the Nice To Do Items category, they’d be in the Must Do Item or Should Do Item category.  It is not a bad way to organise your agenda.
  3. The third major problem (the most important), is that agendas generally LACK sufficient detail to serve as a good guide or direction to meeting proceedings.

There are two major points, which can be added to every agenda which will shorten a meeting and make the minute taking easier:

  1. For every item of discussion, detail the desired outcome or the objective or the reason for it being on the agenda. For instance, most agendas will simply list a topic such as “Security”.  The participants will all bring to the meeting their own perception of what that means in relation to this meeting.  Some may think it means computer security, others building security, others staff security, others security of documents, others security of information etc.  Each person, having made up their own mind on what it means will arrive wanting to talk about what they thought it meant – the meeting is then much longer than it needed to be.

To overcome this, the precise reason for it being on the Agenda should be detailed.  For instance:  “Security: Decision to be made on installation of security screens on main building”.

With this detail, everyone attending knows

  1. that a decision needs to be made, and
  2. The nature of the decision.
  3. A person responsible for each item. In the example above, if no person was given responsibility to present a proposal or quotes to the meeting, the meeting would lack information on which to make a decision and spend a lot of time talking about it or talking about the lack of information.

The result would be likely to be a deferral of the decision – a waste of time for everyone. Try and review the                    presentation materials beforehand.

Some over zealous reporters with more heart than talent can be boring with their numerous slides.

You can avoid potential ‘death by Powerpoint’ by a diplomatic briefing on time limits without compromising content or valuable information.

If you, the minute taker, don’t take care of structuring

and formatting the agenda, who will?

Preparing the agenda is far more than just typing a list of items.

How to Prepare A Modern Agenda

1. Agendas need to be sent out in advance, not given out at the meeting.
People who are organised and have genuine desire to reach the best decision, always have their agendas distributed in time for people to give thought to the issues.

2. Have a timetable for the meetings.
See sample on page 28. This is the Minute Taker’s own timeline for tasks related to the meetings. This schedule ensures that all communiqués, reports, action status and the like are prepared.

3. Have a “cut-off” time for agenda items.
Make sure everyone knows the cutoff time and also “publish” the distribution time for the agenda. For instance, let everyone know the cutoff time for agenda items is noon on the third Thursday. The agenda will be emailed or faxed by close of business that same day, for the meeting on the following Monday.

4. Once you have (3) in place, then eliminate General Business.
Adopt the strict policy that “if it isn’t on the agenda then it isn’t discussed.” Do not allow items to be raised without notice. Everyone has the same opportunity to put anything they want to on the agenda – BEFORE the cut-off and certainly not during the meeting itself! Allow only true emergency items to be the exceptions to this hard and fast rule. Research shows, that if an item is raised without notice, the attendees will spend time talking about it, but then defer the decision until the next meeting.

5. Insert an agenda item immediately after Confirmation of the minutes – “Action Status Report”.
This written report lists the current status of every item of action which is outstanding, as well as the completed items assigned at the last meeting. Note each action should have a status report. Suggested status statements are: Completed, Not yet started, 70% completed, Completion expected in 3 days, Stalled – require resources, Stalled – Awaiting information or responses, Waiting for CEO’s signature, etc.

See sample on Pages 29-30.

6. Once you have the Action Status Report in place, then you can eliminate Business Arising from the Minutes.
Many people think that Business Arising from the minutes is going through every item on the last minutes and asking if there is anything to be said. This is a complete waste of time. Everything which would normally appear in business arising, would either be in the Action Status report or will be worthy of an agenda item in its own right.

7. Sort all correspondence into 3 categories
1. Junk, 2. For information only, 3. Decision required. Eliminate correspondence as an item on the agenda.
Correspondence in category 1, (junk) should be disposed of. Correspondence in category 2 (For Information) should be placed in a manila folder and passed around the meeting. There is no need to list it in the minutes. Correspondence in category 3 (Decision required) should each be listed on the agenda as a separate item so they can be dealt with at an appropriate time and in an appropriate way.
Outward correspondence has been sent – there is little to be gained by discussing letters which have been sent.

8. Place a D or an I next to every agenda item indicating whether it is a decision required item of an information item.

9. Finally, and most important, ensure that every agenda item shows clearly what is required – not just a vague topic. Eg: decision to be made on which software the organisation will buy; or, decision required on whether or not to employ an extra admin person; or, decision required on whether to extend the funding for the Acme Project and if so, by how much. Once you have this in place, then your meetings will run smoothly and be much more focused.

10. Prioritise the agenda – most important decision items first, then less important decision items, then information items.

Summary of Agenda contents:

  • Welcome & apologies
  • Confirmation of previous minutes
  • Action Status Reports ( related to previous meeting’s decisions or action plans)
  • Reports
  • Correspondence that requires decision (eliminate junk and distribute but do not discuss “for Information only” items/correspondence).
  • Main Business limited to not more than five. Agenda items are classified as D (decision) or I (information); Items for approval/decision should have supporting documents and recommendations.
  • Date of next meeting.

Note:  Modern meetings eliminate business that can be handled by memos or email and need not be discussed in group. Verbal reports should have a corresponding written summary. Insist that every report is written and preferably no more than one page. That report is then included in the minutes. (It is not the minute takers job to write notes about someone’s report – it is up the person giving the report to provide their report for the minute taker to include).

If you get the agenda right, the minutes are a breeze! ! !

Sample

Timetable for the Facilities Committee Meetings 

Meetings will be held on the 2nd and 4th  Thursday of every month

at 9.30am in meeting room number 2. 

The following timetable will apply to all meetings. 

Note – Items in italics do not need to be on the published timetable – they are for the minute taker to do.

Day Time Action
Monday of the week of the meeting 9.00am Reminder of meeting and call for agenda items
Tuesday Noon Deadline for agenda items with supporting materials to be with minute taker
Tuesday 2.30pm Meeting with Chair and minute taker to prioritise and finalise agenda (10 minute meeting)
Tuesday 4.00pm Agenda sent to all participants together with relevant supporting documents
Thursday 8.30am Ring around to check status of action
Thursday 9.00am Action Status report completed
Thursday 9.30am – 10.45am Meeting held
Thursday Noon Minutes distributed by email with action register attached

 

Sample

Action Status Report

 This document is different to an action “list” because it keeps a register of all outstanding action.

Here’s what you do:

  • Keep a permanent “Action Register” document in your word processor.
  • After every meting you add all of the new action that has been delegated during the meeting.
  • After every meeting, remove the completed actions and leave the ones that are not yet complete.

Here’s the powerful step:

  • Just before the meeting (45 – 30 minutes before the start of the meeting) call everyone who has an outstanding action on the list and clarify the “Current Status” of their action(s)
  • Type in their status in the last column
  • Do that for everyone on the list
  • Sort the list on column 4 – Deadline so the oldest deadlines are first
  • Print out the Action register and give everyone a hard copy as they enter the room.

This document can be sorted in three ways:

  • Action register listed by person;
  • Action register listed by deadline;
  • Action register listed by current status.
Name Action Date Delegated Deadline Current Status
Steve Wish Arrange collection of archive boxes from all 3rd floor offices 3/3/09 2/4/09 Waiting for Facilities Depart to collect
Patrick Thomas Check legislation about safety issues regarding accessing high cupboard 12/4/09 17/5/09 Not completed
Tom Allen Prepare report on new air conditioning unit with a recommended option 3/3/09 17/5/09 Waiting for final quote
Alistair Hopkins Arrange audit of security pass access – especially past employees ability to access 15/6/09 17/6/09 Unknown – Alistair on leave
Mary Collins Organise catering for Executive meeting 12/4/09 21/6/09 Completed
Alice Cook Update website with new contact details 15/6/09 14/7/09 Complete
Anne Brown Investigate with IT the possibility of access to colour printer for all secretaries 15/6/09 14/7/09 Completed. Report available
Dennis Mackie Sound out other managers about allocating money from their budgets for presentation skills training 15/6/09 14/7/09 All responses in except 2. Looks favourable.
Henry Tan Obtain quotes for new paper supplier 15/6/09 14/7/09 Waiting for 3rd quote

 

Sample Agenda

Rhodium Club 101       Committee Meeting Agenda      February 4th, 2009

1. Members eligible to attend: Mavis Columbine (Chair), Graham Langley, David Peterson, Joan Laws, Risk Saggers, Bill Styles, Gloria Hotham , Michelle Williams, Gordon Smith, Grady Morgan

2. Minutes of Previous meeting – to be approved

3. Treasurer’s report:

  • Report of financial situation to be provided
  • Update on statements being sent to Treasurer to be provided

4. Main Business

  • Some people chairing meetings not sure of their duties. Decision to be made as to how to solve this problem.
  • Standing Orders currently require members to give apologies to Chair. This causes difficulty for Program Director. Decision to be made on changing standing orders to require apologies to be given to Program Director.
  • New Venue: The existing venue is becoming too noisy with the pub people next door. Decision to be made about changing venue.
  • South of River Inter-Club Competition. Decisions to be made on date, venue and which clubs will be invited.
  • Thanking of critic. Decision to be made to roster thanking of tutor on notice of meeting or leave it impromptu.
  • Decision to be made on rostering the Introducing the Chair each week.

Points to Ponder:
“Make your agendas issue based, make them priority based, make sure that every item is precise and clear in its purpose and get rid of general business. Have a cut off time and distribute the agenda with whatever everyone wants on the agenda.” David Julian Price , CSP