Learning how to write a meeting agenda for a meeting is a necessity for avoiding slow-motion (or even lightning-fast) disasters in a business or a career.
Fortunately, on the other hand, it’s a key opportunity for realizing the highest goals of a career or a business, over time, or in some cases rapidly.
The chain of causation is when you step back from the noise and emergencies and tasks of everyday business:
Meetings – from one-on-one meetings all the way to all-hands-on-deck meetings – are where information is exchanged, decisions are made and communicated, relationships are forged, and accountability is accomplished. An effective meeting agenda is the first step.
You can tell exactly how well run a business is by observing how well a meeting is run. You can see how promising a career is by noting how well a person runs a business meeting.
What we'll talk about in this post:
Writing an effective meeting agenda is far more than “writing an agenda.” It’s not a discrete task. It’s not just sitting down to map out what’s going to happen in the next meeting. It’s deeply integrated into how business is run. That’s true even if the person writing the agenda doesn’t see it.
People write isolated agendas all the time – but these isolated agendas, and meetings, are part of a larger pattern all the same. They think they’re writing an agenda for “just this meeting.”
What they don’t see is that this very attempt is part of a larger context of self-isolation, disjointedness, and lack of direction in the business.
We’ve all seen such meetings. And most of us have made the mistake of creating such a meeting. The people who attend can’t see any clear purpose of the meeting, because there isn’t one.
Meeting participants, whether on the agenda or not, meander, speak on irrelevant topics, ride hobby horses, or just try to be liked with friendliness and sociability that goes on too long and wastes everyone’s time.
Participants depart the meeting in relief that it’s over, and with no clear idea of what was decided, or what tasks were assigned or who is responsible or how they can help.
What happens afterward is all too familiar. People struggle along until the next meeting, accomplishing far less than their potential.
At the next meeting, the excruciating, unnecessary pattern repeats itself. It repeats itself, that is, unless someone steps in to change everything in a process that begins with writing one clear meeting agenda.
Just one. That’s all it takes. Just one person, and just one clear agenda for one clear meeting, to start a virtuous cycle of an organized, connected, integrated way of running a business, department, or team.
So you see the isolated, unintegrated meeting agenda is actually connected and integrated. It’s just connected integrally to a dysfunctional business pattern.
This article maps out how to write an agenda for a meeting.
Effective agendas are connected in a chronological, action-oriented, ongoing process. They start from the minutes of the last meeting, deal with current reality, and generate minutes and tasks that look forward to the next meeting.
To write an effective agenda, it must be an efficient part of a series. That means you need software to conveniently connect a series of meetings.
True, you could theoretically do it the 19th Century way, with paper and files. But that’s only in theory. In practice, business operates at such a speed nowadays that meeting-specific software is necessary to organize information, participants, and results.
Effective agendas are also collaborational, with input from all relevant stakeholders. Effective agendas can’t be written only by one person. Business is a team sport, and the wise agenda writer reaches out for collaborative input into what should be discussed at the meeting.
Now let’s look at how to write an agenda for a meeting in XX steps.
Because an effective agenda is connected to what came before it and what will come after it, these steps are broadly categorized as Before, During, and After the meeting.
Also, because an effective agenda requires collaboration, we’ll cover how that happens in these steps.
Before taking next steps by writing a new agenda, it’s natural and crucial that you review detailed notes from the last meeting. These will include minutes, tasks, who was responsible for them, and the tracked accountability and progress of those tasks.
Since business, a team sport, is inevitably run by meetings, it’s critical that every meeting has a specified business purpose that fits into the current overarching goals of the business. It’s more than a meeting goal. This is a connected business purpose from a 40,000-foot view.
If a meeting isn’t connected to a larger purpose of the business, it will only lack a foundation to shared goals, and feel distracting or purposeless – because it is by definition without purpose.
On the other hand, when you can clearly write into the agenda the purpose of the meeting, and tie that purpose to goals that everyone knows, accepts, and is working towards, then you’ve given that meeting an emotional valence and you’re helping to move the business forward.
A meeting objective is different from a business purpose. Meeting productivity depends on having specific objectives. The objective is a step or a necessary building block for serving the purpose identified in Step 2.
For example, the business purpose of a finance company may be to help improve the lives of customers by giving them a path to financial security.
But the objective of one specific meeting may be to finalize the parameters of a new product.
Your specific vocabulary for these two concepts isn’t important, of course. But as you write your meeting agenda, you’ll have a more powerful document, and meeting, if you distinguish these two different concepts.
Meetings come in all sizes and kinds. From one-on-one meetings and weekly team meetings, to leadership meetings, to board meetings, to team or departmental meetings, all-hands-on-deck meetings, and more.
In this step, the meeting leader can decide on the scope of the meeting as an early part of writing the agenda. Who should attend? How many? How long?
Since effective meetings are by definition collaborative, writing the agenda has to be collaborative as well, ideally from the entire team.
Although it’s tempting to just write a fast and simple meeting agenda oneself, better meeting agendas result from a collaborative process.
Plurality of views and input mean a plurality of awareness, wisdom, and ideas, so that in the meeting itself, you can be more sure of having explored all the possibilities for action in the contest with your business competitors.
As you sit down to actually write in the document of the agenda itself, you’ll begin to identify specific agenda topics of discussion, tasks to assign, and questions to ask.
Since an effective agenda is part of a series of meetings, which is part of an overarching business purpose, you’ll want to make sure that each agenda topic that you identified in Step 6 can be assigned a specific objective or purpose. Why is it on the agenda? What business purpose does it ultimately serve? What’s the granular objective of spending time on it in a meeting? Having to spell this out can eliminate some extraneous topics. Those that are left will have much more respect and emotional valence because the key players are invested in them.
As topics are identified and justified in terms of specific purposes, assign team members to lead each agenda item. This function points up the convenience of using meeting software which facilitates direct collaboration while writing a meeting agenda.
Struggling to circulate documents and files the old way, with links to live documents, or even uploads and downloads of encrypted files, is just too tedious and slow and insecure for the speed of modern business.
Good meeting software enables you to attach documents and files directly with the agenda so that discussion leaders and participants have access before, during, and after the meeting.
Access is of course only part of what’s needed. Arguably an equally important aspect is having all the relevant documents and files conveniently organized, so that participants can discuss, consider, and decide, instead of scrambling to find the information.
Apportion an appropriate amount of time for each topic. Clear time limits have a way of sharpening thought, communication, and decisions.
Few teams have the luxury of a dedicated, assigned admin expert who always takes the minutes. Most teams share the responsibility. Even if no one will say, it’s a mistake to put all the responsibility on a single person. For one thing, it can take a team member totally out of the meeting. They seem involved because they are taking notes constantly. But that precludes them from actually taking part in the discussion. This robs the team of the benefit of a full plurality of participation from everyone. It can also breed bad feelings.
For these reasons, the most effective meeting agendas specify a note-taker for each topic, and spread the responsibility around. The right software will allow easy collaboration on a single document during the meeting.
An agenda is a living document, especially during the meeting. To write an effective agenda, you need to have easy access to it during the meeting, be able to make changes and notes on the fly, and enable other team members to collaborate on it instantly.
As discussions take place and decisions are made, it’s important to document which meeting participants said what and what the decisions were, in precise language.
As decisions are made and tasks created during an efficient meeting, assign tasks and done-by dates to specific team members right there in the meeting. A good meeting app will make this easy.
Tasks that are not assigned may rarely get done. Assigning a task publicly in a staff meeting, and documenting it in the meeting app software, gives team members a sense of authority and agency necessary for shepherding a task through to completion.
As we’ve seen, writing a good agenda for a single productive meeting isn’t possible, because productive meetings, like business itself, are part of an integrated, connected process. You’ll need to quickly process meeting notes afterward.
Every agenda’s effectiveness depends on knowing what came out of the previous meeting. So as part of writing the next agenda, you have a few quick things to do after the current meeting.
(At least, if you’re using a good meeting minutes app, these tasks will be very quick – even instant.)
Your meeting app should enable you to instantly and securely distribute the meeting minutes to everyone who should receive them.
Meeting minutes should be archived for easy, secure search and retrieval, including global search. As you write your next meeting agenda in any series of meetings, having instant access and global search makes it easy to recall relevant key points from earlier meetings.
Tracking accountability for tasks is one of the most important functions of meeting and agenda software. It enables the next agenda to be written effectively.
Instead of checking on the completion of tasks of meeting participants at the next meeting, it’s better to track accountability before the next meeting.
That saves time in the meeting, of course. But even more importantly, it enables you to write the next agenda with much more relevant knowledge. Tracking accountability in software, between meetings instead of at meetings, greatly accelerates your company’s speed of business. It means that when you send the calendar invite for the next meeting, you’re already up to speed on what’s been accomplished.
Viewing a large and varied list of meeting agenda examples and templates can help break writer’s block for beginning on a meeting agenda. In the link above, you’ll find a good meeting agenda for a board meeting agenda template, for one-on-one meetings, all-hands-on-deck meetings, a recurring meeting, and many more.
Keep in mind that while sample meeting agendas are great for loosening up, it’s better to observe what’s actually happening in your business, or team, using the step by step suggestions above.
Meeting agenda templates to copy or download (Google Doc or Word Doc) — plus examples of how to use them.
The best way to set a meeting agenda is to explain every goal of the meeting as an action.