How to Write an Agenda
The word ‘agenda’ is Latin for ‘things to be done’.
It is not, please note, Latin for ‘things to be talked about’.
All meetings have agendas. Many meetings have multiple agendas, some of them hidden, all operating at once. There’s nothing absolutely wrong with hidden agendas. But the best agendas are public and written down.
An effective agenda is not just a list of subject headings. It instructs the participants, telling them what they should be doing at every point in the meeting.
An agenda is helpful, in fact, at all stages of the meeting cycle: it acts as a plan of the meeting to help people prepare, as a tool of control during the meeting to prevent diversions or hijackings, and a guide for monitoring the agreed actions to be carried out after the meeting.
What goes on the agenda?
Well, obviously, to begin with, the agenda items.
Every item on the agenda should contain at least one verb. For example:
Item 7: New IT network
- says very little that will help participants to prepare. Compare:
Item 3: New IT network. Sanjay to present quotations and essential specifications of systems under consideration. Team to agree system to be recommended for purchase. (25 minutes)
This much fuller entry identifies the task, the task owner (the person leading the conversation at that point), the amount of time allocated to complete the task – and how the group will know that they have achieved their objective.
These, then, are the essential elements of any agenda item:
- Verb to indicate the kind of work to be done
- Task owner, who leads the conversation
Beyond these essentials, an agenda will probably contain a number of other elements. The most formal agenda might include (in this order):
Title of meeting
Date, time, venue
Apologies for absence
Minutes of previous meeting
Matters arising from the previous meeting
Other items to be discussed and decided
Motions relating to the above
Reports from sub-committees
Contributions from guest speakers
Any other business [but see the note below]
Date, time and venue of next meeting
Your agenda will probably not need to be so comprehensive. But you may also need to include a note about attachments, in case any documents get lost.
If your meeting uses the protocol of formal motions, consider putting these (or copying them) on a separate sheet, for ease of reference.
Designing the agenda
As you gather items for the agenda, look for some of these themes.
A logical order (some items may need to be resolved before the meeting can consider others)
Common threads that link items together
Routine items (place near the beginning);
Special factors (for example, people who are only involved in a part of the meeting)
Difficult or contentious items (allow more time and place them towards the centre of the agenda)
Think, also, about how to make best use of the group’s energy levels. The agenda could, for example, start with relatively ‘easy’ items, building to the most ‘difficult’ or challenging items in the middle of the meeting. The meeting might then end with items for discussion (rather than resolution), a guest presentation (allowing the group to relax after the main business of the meeting), or celebratory items: achievements, targets exceeded, new customers won.
Aim to finish the meeting on a positive note, with a summary of what you have achieved and the suggested next steps.
And what about ‘Any other business’?
The simple answer is: avoid it if you can.
All too often, people use aob to pursue private or hidden agendas, to settle old scores, reawaken old grudges or make lengthy and irrelevant complaints. And that means that the meeting can go out of control and end in bad feeling.
If something is worth discussing, itemize it on the agenda.
So how could we avoid 'any other business'?
Distribute a draft agenda, with invitations for contributions
Invite participants to submit any late business at the start of the meeting.
Decide whether to include extra items, on the basis of their urgency,not their importance. Make it clear that any late inclusions are at the Chair's discretion.
Amend the agenda. Consider placing the new items at the beginning of the meeting, rather than at the end.
Allocate time to the new items and revise the timings for the rest of the agenda. Keep to the original overall timing of the meeting; simply extending it is counterproductive.
An effective meeting begins with an effective agenda. By constructing your agenda carefully – and, even better, by inviting contributions from participants – you strengthen your chances of holding a productive and enjoyable meeting.
This content was provided by one of our users, alanbarker830