How to Develop an Effective Meeting Agenda

Your Preparation Determines Whether You Will Achieve Your Desired Outcomes

When a meeting agenda is created as a plan for your meetings, they are more likely to be effective meetings that produce results.
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A meeting agenda is the list of items that participants hope to accomplish at a meeting. The agenda should be distributed to participants several days in advance of a meeting, minimally 24 hours in advance so that participants have the opportunity to prepare for the meeting.

In combination with meeting minutes, the documentation that participants receive following a meeting, the agenda is the plan for the meeting and the reported follow-up for the prior meeting.

When you develop an agenda for a meeting that is not regularly scheduled, the following steps will assist you. Later in this article, you will see an agenda template for a regularly scheduled meeting. The two types of meetings share similar agenda items but are not exactly the same.

Developing a Meeting Agenda

First, identify whether other employees are needed to help you plan the meeting. Then, decide what you hope to accomplish by holding the meeting. Establish doable goals for your meeting. The goals you set will establish the framework for an effective meeting plan. Make certain that you have not planned more than is reasonably achievable within the time frame of your meeting.

As Stephen Covey said in the "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," "Begin with the end in mind." Your meeting purpose will determine the meeting focus, the meeting agenda, and the meeting participants.

Building an agenda is making a plan for the meeting. You start with the main goal or purpose that you are trying to accomplish by holding the meeting. Once you have decided upon your goal, you need to determine whether you need the assistance of additional employees to plan your agenda. If yes, invite them to join you in making your meeting agenda usually by email or text so as not to create the need for an additional meeting.

Decisions to Make as You Develop Your Meeting Agenda

After determining your overall goal, you, or your team, need to make the following decisions. In addition to the purpose or goal of the meeting, each of these items appears on the meeting agenda.

  • Needed participants for the actual meeting,
  • The items that need discussion or action that will lead to the accomplishment of the goal or purpose,
  • The amount of time that you anticipate the group will need for the discussion of each item,
  • A date and time for the meeting,
  • A suitable location, that will hold all participants comfortably, for the meeting,
  • Pre-work for the meeting. This will include any reading, documentation, data, meeting minutes from a prior meeting, or any other preparation that will make your actual meeting successful. This preparation should be attached to the meeting notice and agenda when you distribute them to invited participants.

    In addition to the above decision items, standard meeting agenda items should include:

    • Review the meeting’s purpose, agenda, and expected outcomes and product.
    • Review the minutes of the prior meeting.
    • Review participants' progress on commitments and action items made at the prior meeting.
    • The note taker or leader needs to review the commitments made by participants during the current meeting as a final agenda item.

    Decide Who Must Participate to Accomplish Your Meeting Agenda

    Once you have decided that a meeting is necessary to accomplish your goal, you need to develop the list of participants.

    Not every employee can or should participate in every meeting, but inviting the right participants will enhance your likelihood of success. 

    How to Identify the Participants Needed to Accomplish Your Meeting Agenda

    Determine your participants for either a one time or brief series of meetings or for a regularly scheduled or ongoing meeting by asking yourself questions such as the following.

    • Who must own the solution the group develops?
    • Who owns the process the group is discussing?
    • Who needs to know the information you are distributing?
    • Who can provide data and facts to guide decision making?
    • Who has experience or expertise to share with the group?
    • Who must support the implementation of any solutions or tasks?
    • Who must provide permission or resources to accomplish the meeting outcome?
    • Who might oppose the implementation of any solutions or direction?

    Do You Need a Meeting Agenda for Regularly Scheduled Meetings?

    Not every meeting needs a custom developed agenda. Most employees have regularly scheduled meetings for their departments or workgroups. You also have teams and projects in which you participate.

    An ongoing project may not require a newly developed agenda for every meeting, but your team will be well served by adopting a standard approach to your meeting.

    The regularly scheduled employee meeting is divided into three segments for which each has standard agenda items: Informational Items, Action Items, and Forward Planning.

    Components of a Meeting Agenda for Regularly Scheduled Meetings

    Informational Items

    Write out any agenda items that are informational for every meeting. For example, the manager updates the group on the outcomes of the senior management meeting.

    Action Items

    Place on the agenda any items that you expect the group will want to review at every regularly scheduled meeting. For example, performance to budget for the time period and the identification of cost savings and continuous improvements the group plans to achieve.

    Forward Planning

    Place on the agenda any items that the group wants to plan for or prepare for in advance. For example, the short-term goals for the next month or the need for coworker assistance on upcoming assignments.

    If you follow these guidelines when you develop your meeting agenda, you enhance the probability that your meeting will produce results.

    Sample Meeting Agenda for a Regularly Scheduled Meeting

    Use this sample agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting to ensure that your meeting produces the results you seek.

    • Warm-up and greetings. Consider a brief icebreaker depending on how frequently the group meets.
    • Review the meeting’s purpose, agenda, and expected outcomes and product.
    • Review the minutes of the prior meeting.
    • Provide appropriate departmental and company information that the team needs.
    • Review progress on action items, action plans, and commitments. Review group progress on goals.
    • Discuss and make decisions about the agenda items for this meeting.
    • Identify next steps.
    • Identify the purpose, outcome, and agenda for the next meeting.
    • At the end of the meeting, the note taker should review the commitments made by people during the meeting.
    • Identify any assistance needed from people not in the group and assign participants to make contact.
    • Determine who outside of the meeting participants needs to know what and decide how you will accomplish the communication.
    • Send minutes out within 24 hours of the meeting or immediately if the note taker took the notes electronically (the norm).

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