Start at the Beginning When Organizing Your Agenda

Posted by Kristin Arnold on August 7, 2008

Build an Agenda

It happens to everyone: You walk into a meeting and no one knows what’s going on. There’s no agenda, but there are multiple items to cover.  You can either dive right on in — or invest a few minutes in creating structure from the chaos.

Quickly hop up out of your seat, grab a flip chart marker and ask, “What do we need to accomplish at this meeting?”  Write down each idea the way it was stated and the name of the person who suggested the idea.  Note:  You are asking the team to identify outcomes or expected results — not just a laundry list of topics.

Before you move on to the next step, ask whether everyone understands the outcomes and clarify if necessary.  Combine similar items — if there’s any dissent, assume that the ideas are distinct and should remain separate.  Elapsed time to list the outcomes:  two to five minutes.

Next, take each item and ask the suggesting person how long it will take to achieve the outcome.  If the team disagrees, allow a few seconds for discussion and write down the most agreed-upon time.  Remember:  An agenda is just a roadmap, and the time limits are guideposts.  If the team later agrees that it needs more time, it’ll have the flexibility to adjust the agenda.  Also ask the suggesting person whether he or she would like to lead the discussion.  If not, ask the team for a volunteer.  Beware:  If just one or two people are leading all the items, you’ll end up with a one-way conversation!  Elapsed time to identify time limits and leaders:  two minutes.

Last, prioritize your list.  Most teams have too much to do and not enough time, so it’s critical to start with the most important.  Some teams simply rank the agenda iems, with No. 1 being the most important, No. 2 as the next-most-important, etc.

Or try the ABC concept, where A is vital (we must accomplish this outcome at this meeting), B is important (we should accomplish this outcome) and C is trivial (we could do this, but the world won’t come to an end if we don’t accomplish this today).  When prioritizing, quickly go through the list and ask, “Is this an A, B or C?” and write down the most agreed-upon letter.  Some teams continue to prioritize by sequencing each group of letters, identifying A1, A2, A3; B1, B2, B3; and C1, C2, C3.  Elapsed time:  one or two minutes.

You’ve now built your agenda!  Start with the A1 and move through the list.  Total time:  five to 10 minutes — a worthwhile investment to the teams’s work.

Question:  Do you create an agenda before your meeting?

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