How to Develop an Effective Meeting Agenda

Preparation determines whether you will achieve your desired outcomes

Woman using a well-organized agenda to run a successful meeting in an office.

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A meeting agenda is a list of items that participants hope to accomplish at a meeting. The agenda should be distributed in advance of a meeting, minimally 24 hours in advance so that participants have the opportunity to prepare for the meeting. Preferably, if possible, the agenda should be available several days before the meeting. The more time your colleagues have available to prepare for a meeting, the more likely they will attend prepared to participate effectively.

Developing a Meeting Agenda

The first step in developing an agenda is to identify whether other employees are needed to help you plan the meeting. Then, decide what you hope to accomplish by holding the meeting, and 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 timeframe of your meeting.

As Stephen Covey said in "The 7 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.

Then, consider how much time you expect to need for each agenda item. If the meeting is to last one hour and you have five agenda items, that gives you a general idea of the timeframe you're working with. It doesn't mean every agenda item must be precisely 12 minutes, but the five combined obviously cannot average more time than that.

Decisions to Make

After determining your overall goal, you or your team need to make certain decisions. In addition to the purpose or goal of the meeting, also include with your agenda:

  • A date, time, and location for the meeting
  • Participants needed in the meeting
  • Items for discussion
  • The amount of time that you anticipate the group will need to discuss each item
  • 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. Relevant documents should be attached to the meeting notice and agenda when you distribute them to invited participants.

Identifying Participants

Once you have decided that a meeting is necessary to accomplish your goal, you need to develop a list of participants. Not every employee can or should participate in every meeting, but inviting the right participants will enhance your likelihood of success. Determine your participants by asking yourself some questions:

  • 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?

Agendas 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

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 be more productive.

What to Include on Your Meeting Agenda

An agenda for a regularly scheduled meeting can help produce the results you seek by including some basic items:

  • Warm-up and greetings. Consider a brief ice breaker depending on how frequently the group meets. Even in an online meeting, participants may be well served by an icebreaker.
  • Review the meeting’s purpose, agenda, and expected outcomes and product.
  • Review, correct (if necessary), and approve 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.
  • Distribute minutes within 24 hours of the meeting or immediately if the note taker took them electronically.

The Bottom Line

You can make your online or in-person meetings more effective and more likely to produce the results you seek when you make a detailed agenda. The agenda is the result of your disciplined thinking about the outcomes you desire to achieve. The meeting agenda is the external manifestation of your plan and goals.