Tips, Videos, Handouts

Agendas should have times

Having an Agenda can help your meeting be highly productive and efficient.

In this video Craig explains three reasons why agendas (meeting plans) should have times noted for each item.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Craig Freshley here. I believe that if you’re going to have a highly productive highly efficient meeting, it should have a clear written purpose and it should have a clear written plan to achieve the purpose.

If you don’t have a good purpose for the meeting, consider not having it at all. And if you don’t have a plan to achieve that purpose, you might not achieve it.

Look, an agenda is kind of a fancy word for a “meeting plan.” Sometimes agendas are just a list of items: here’s what were going to do, and it kind of provides an order. But you know what happens with an agenda like; that we usually spend a disproportionate amount of time on the first few items and often we don’t even get to the last items.

Having an agenda with timing like this one really increases your productivity and your efficiency. I believe there are three reasons for making your agenda with times.

Look, here this is a paper version of the same agenda that I just showed you on the chart and you can see that the timing matches exactly. And there’s even a little explanation under each heading so we know exactly what were going to do for that particular agenda item. Turn the piece of paper over and you will see that there is some nice background information and that there are some clearly stated meeting objectives. These are the objectives that we plan to achieve. Over on the other side of the piece of paper, this is the plan to achieve it.

Okay, three reasons for having timing on your agenda.

Reason number one, it helps make the plan. When I have to think through exactly how much time I’m going to spend on each of these items I am much more thoughtful about the order of items. Maybe I’ll decide to group some items together. Maybe I’ll decide, when I think through the timing, that we don’t even need to talk about all the items; some can be put off for another time or handled in another way. It really sharpens my thinking in making the plan for the meeting.

Reason number two, it sends a signal to people who are attending the meeting and who are in the meeting as to what were going to be spending the most time on. When I get that paper agenda in advance I can take a look and I can see: “Okay, look passenger rail in Maine. This is going to be a presentation and it’s going to last 40 minutes. But economic benefits of extending passenger rail service in Maine, that’s a 70 minute conversation. That’s really the bulk of this meeting. Next steps is going to be, what, we got about a half hour for next steps…..” and it lets me know exactly what to expect before you even get in the room.

Third reason for having timing. If I’m leading the meeting, it gives me leverage to push the group along. I can say something like, “Well, our agenda says that were due to wrap up this discussion just five minutes from now, so let’s take some last comments on this topic and they were going to move on.” Or I might say something like. “Look, our agenda says were over time on this issue we were supposed to have finished this topic five minutes ago, so let’s take a few more comments and then were going to move to the next item.”

Now look, if I have timing on the agenda it doesn’t mean I need to hold to it to the second or even to the minute. I’m allowed to make changes on the fly. I might go to an item early. I might go to one item a little late. But it provides a touchstone. It provides me some leverage to move the group through the agenda to the next item.

And you know what? In almost every meeting that I facilitate I make a chart like this and I post it somewhere in the room where the participants can see it, but especially important where I can see it because I am looking at this constantly. I don’t want to have to be fumbling through my papers to find the paper agenda. I want to be able to glance at this thing 10, 20, 100 times in a meeting. I am looking at this, I am looking at my watch, I am always keenly aware of exactly where we are in this agenda, how much time is left, and I can manage this discussion accordingly.

That’s all I got for you today. Here’s hoping that you help your group make good decisions.

4 thoughts on “Agendas should have times

  1. Thanks for your comment, Robert. I LOVE thoughtful contributions like this!

    Any other views on this?

  2. Craig,
    Although I agree that thinking through timing around process for each agenda item is critical, I disagree with publishing the timing on the agenda. I find that more detail-oriented participants worry when timing is not adhered to religiously, and tend to lose focus on the work.

    I always clearly define agenda/process time blocks in my unpublished facilitator’s guide, and certainly make adjustments on the fly. But those adjustments are mostly not done overtly. That said, if a particular topic requires more time than expected and puts completion of the agenda as written in jeopardy, I will consult with the group to ascertain where they feel the remaining time will be most effectively spent, and adjust process accordingly.

    But more important in my mind is to manage group process and input effectively to keep the team on track to achieve the purpose and create the deliverables in the time allowed. This means helping participants recognize wandering discussions, long-winded responses, and attempts to “steer” participants to a desired conclusion.

    It also means I must be alert to adjusting process that is not as effective as I thought when I designed it. My penchant for using my favorite “square peg in the round hole” process may very well be the root cause of the timing issue..

  3. Love it! And particularly your point about the agenda being a plan, not just a list of headings – something I’ve stressed for years when training meeting participants.

    There’s a fourth benefit to timed agendas: it allows participants who are busy to see at what point of the meeting their contribution/input will be required, and therefore to only attend for the duration of that point. After all, not all meeting participants may need to be at the whole meeting.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *