What’s Your Agenda?
One of the key factors to ensure the success of any meeting, large or small, is good facilitation. In fact, facilitation is a skill all leaders need to have in order to function well in today’s workplace. Ironically it is not something that is taught in school. Do you remember taking “The Fundamentals of Facilitation” or “Meetings 101?” If not, don’t worry because they weren’t offered. Over the next several months, I am going offer a series of articles called “Fundamentals of Facilitation.” This article is focused on developing a good agenda.
Meeting agendas serve several purposes. They articulate the goals and provide a sequenced structure on how to meet them. They help the participants define their roles and expectations – before, during and after – the meeting. They set the tone and likely influence the group dynamics for a period following the meeting. Finally, they reinforce the power structure of the group. Whoever sets the agenda theoretically controls the meeting. It is important to address the following steps in developing a good meeting agenda.
Determine the purpose and intention of the meeting. Are you going to focus on short-term problem solving or longer-term strategic discussions? Is it going to be about teambuilding or developing a 6-month workplan? It is also important to consider the intention of the meeting. Is it more about informing the group of a certain directive or is it about inquiry and honestly seeking input? If you are addressing the former, consider why you need a meeting at all. If it can be accomplished in a memo, respect everyone’s time and cancel the meeting.
Establish realistic goals. What can you reasonably accomplish in regard to the capacity of the group, the space and the time? Always remember that it is better to end a meeting with the group feeling energized and inspired rather than overwhelmed and dejected. Keep your goals simple and real, and you will set yourself up for success.
Be mindful of process. While meetings do not have to be entertaining, they do have to be interesting and engaging. How can you infuse a presentation with a quick interactive exercise? How can you make updates more interesting? Or better yet, eliminate them altogether and have the updates on paper. Make sure each of your topics involves a decision, recommendation or movement toward a solution. This will prevent anyone from using the meeting as a platform to air complaints. If someone wants to express a “concern,” he also needs to offer a solid recommendation or solution. Also beware of recycling the same old agendas. They are guaranteed meeting killers.
Factor in the unexpected. Allow a 15-minute grace period for late starts or technical difficulties, and always have a Plan B. In fact, the majority of the meetings I facilitate do not follow the original agenda. By having a Plan B, I am able to make the adjustments without the participants ever noticing and the meeting continues to run smoothly.
Choose your facilitator carefully. While the responsibility of developing an agenda often rests with a particular manager, chair, management team, or executive committee, the facilitator needs to have the capacity to be entrusted with delivering a meeting in a way that serves both the needs of the organizer and the participants. For the facilitator, it is a constant balancing act. But the path is made easier if the facilitator has clear goals, well-prepared and informed participants, a Plan B, and the commitment of everyone involved to make the meeting engaged, meaningful and successful.
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