Making Your Agenda a Meeting Map - Docket

Making Your Agenda a Meeting Map

Many believe meetings are a waste of time but that is due to poor meeting experience. This can be attributed to many different factors such as poor planning, the wrong audience, etiquette, individual agendas, scheduling conflicts, and many more possibilities. This can result in:

Too many meetings – Just like the saying, “Too much of a good thing is bad” is also very true for meetings. If meetings don’t solve a problem as they should, then generally, more meetings are scheduled. 

Too many obstacles – Taking a group of humans that all have different perspectives, agendas, goals, voices, and schedules and putting them in a room for 30 to 60 minutes is a feat in itself. But if the emotion, drama, expectation, and negativity that comes with many of the above scenarios were removed and the meeting was left in a natural state, we could all potentially see the value of meetings.

Why we need meetings

Most of us cannot solve problems 100% on our own. Perhaps some of us are Sherlock Holmes and can create the hypothesis, follow the clues, and solve the mystery. But in reality, each of us serves a different purpose and a role in which performing a task end to end is not typically something we are capable of doing. But if we combine our superpower with that of those in different roles, we can turn a whiteboard into a product. We can turn a canceled contract into a testimonial. And we can turn a red financial statement to green.

How to make meetings work better

If we could put the “problem” or “challenge” into a GPS and have us get from point A to point B, wouldn’t we? But we can!

An agenda is a map. In order to get the map to help us get from the problem to the solution, need to provide it with enough information to determine direction. Does that mean it takes a little work on our end? Yes, it does. But once it gets going, the result is worth it in the end.

In order to prep your meeting to make it provide the desired output, here is a useful agenda example for you to consider:

  1. Why you are meeting?

If you only put water in your coffee maker, the output will be water. Coffee makers do not miraculously make coffee without coffee. When preparing for a meeting, you need to think through the true reason for your meeting. If you cannot clearly articulate the issue, how can you expect the meeting to solve for it?

  • What problem needs to be solved?
  • What changes need to be made?
  • What information need to be shared?
  • What challenge needs to be overcome?
  • What ideas need to be advanced?

Create an Agenda Purpose: Prevent falling into the trap of a generic meeting purpose. For any meeting you set, write down the actual issue, challenge, or problem in one brief sentence as the Agenda Purpose starting with, “The reason for this meeting is..”

  1. What is the desired outcome?

Now that you have articulated the reason for the meeting, what is your desired outcome? You may not have the imagination or expertise to specifically say what you want the outcome to be, but you can certainly articulate an expectation. 

  • “Our goal is to walk away with 3 ideas we can explore.”
  • “We should have 2 options to provide the customer following this session.”
  • “The team should document and assign final tasks and set a launch date.”

Create an Agenda Desired Outcome: After you identify the problem you want to solve for, document what you expect to get out of the meeting as a result of working through the problem. Create the Agenda’s Desired Outcome starting with, “The goal of this meeting is…”

Bonus – Make sure the goal is not a predetermined solution. This can limit creativity, impact the timeline, and may also not be the best solution. Enable your team to do their best work and be a part of the solution.

  1. What is the best way to break this down?

Once you know why you are meeting and what you hope to accomplish by the end, think about how you are going to get there. Putting some minor structure to the session can help facilitate the 30-60 minute window to keep the discussion and ideas flowing. For those who typically do not care care for structure and prefer free-form thinking, here are a few things to consider when building out your agenda. 

  • Discuss – Everyone is coming into this session from other meetings, problems, and projects. Despite your best effort to prepare and share an agenda, it may have been a day or more since they read the goal of this meeting. Take the beginning of the meeting to review the problem or challenge and desired outcome so that everyone starts on the same page. 
  • Determine – Most challenges come with obvious obstacles, observations, or scenarios. If you can help guide the conversation around these variables, breaking them down into topics will enable focused conversation. If you throw a deck of cards to the wind, putting them back together in some type of order will take some time and may not happen in a set amount of time. But if you separate the deck into suits and only throw hearts to the wind, those cards can be sorted much faster. Separate the work into components to help the audience come to a faster conclusion. 
  • Document – A lot will be said in the meeting so it is critical to capture discussion ideas, findings, or solutions. Depending on the topic, this can be like getting into a windy money machine and trying to figure out how to grab the $100 bills among all of the $1’s. You may not easily recognize what is important so it is critical that your team collaborates on this and captures it together. In addition, tasks should be documented and assigned to an owner and due date during the meeting to create alignment and autonomy when decided as a team. 

Create Agenda Items: Along with your Purpose and Desired Outcome, your Agenda Items should contain a review of the situation or challenge, a break down of related components, and have time at the end to capture the decisions and actions.

In the end, the decisions and actions should support your meeting goal or desired outcome. If they don’t:

  • The issue may not be solved however if the conversation generated information and next steps, what is important is it got you a step in the right direction.
  • See if there are improvements that could be made to the agenda to help you get closer to achieving your goal the next time. Using a meeting tool like Docket, save your agenda as a template so you can reuse the structure you put time into building and perfecting. 

Make the most of your time with others in meetings by preparing a solid agenda they can use as a map to get from problem to solution and save time by making agendas a habit in your day to day process.

About the Author

Heather Hansson

Heather is VP of Product and Chief of Staff at Docket. She enjoys leading cross-functional teams to work together on vision, strategy, and implementing solutions that help people work and live better. When she isn’t helping rid the world of wasteful meetings with Docket, Heather likes to run, take violin lessons with her son, and spend time with her family.

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