Two Powerful Tips to Quickly Make Your Meetings Productive!

Published inCategorised as Leadership, Personal Productivity, Project Management Tagged , , ,

My day is packed with meetings, and I often find myself with groups of people gathering for a conversation with no apparent purpose. To have an effective meeting start adding (1) the Desired Outcome and (2) a list of Topics & Activities to each meeting request; then share this as the agenda again the day before.

If somebody else has invited you to a meeting where the agenda (Desired Outcome and Topics & Activities) is missing, then point them to this post so that they can update and plan for a productive meeting. 😊

These two things (Desired Outcome + Topics & Activities) will change your next meeting from pointless to powerful!

Quick Agenda Example

Here is a quick & easy, simple example of a meeting agenda to get started with:

Desired Outcome: Agreement from our Project Sponsor on the Project Status Report.

Topics & Activities:

  • Presentation of Dashboard & Variances
  • Discuss Open Issues & Risks
  • Determine Next Steps

Detailed Agenda Example

Here is a fully-fledged meeting agenda example for maximum effect:

Desired Outcome: Agreement from our Project Sponsor on the Project Status Report contents for week 2.

Topics & Activities:

  • Check-in (All for 5 mins)
  • Review Dashboard (John for 5 mins)
  • Review Variances (John for 5 mins)
  • Discuss Open Issues (All for 30 mins)
  • Discuss Open Risks (John for 10 mins)
  • Determine Next Steps (Peter for 5 mins)

Preparation: Read the attached Project Status Report before the meeting (Approx. 20 mins)

  • What surprises or concerns you?
  • How can we address the Open Issues?
  • Do the mitigation plans on the Open Risks accurately manage the risks?

Rules:

  • Please keep questions to the end of the presentation.
  • Raise your hand when you want to provide feedback.
  • Please turn your camera off during the presentation. However, please turn on your camera for increased engagement and collaboration when speaking.

Roles:

  • John is our Facilitator to keep us on track with the agenda items and ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Peter is our Note-taker to record learnings, decisions, tasks, and general notes during the meeting. Peter will give a high-level summary of the decisions and tasks at the end of the meeting.
  • Paul is our Timekeeper to remind us of the meeting time constraints.

Your Ideal Meeting Agenda

A meeting agenda isn’t just a calendar invite with a list of things to discuss. It’s more than that. As soon as the meeting starts, a well-made agenda is a map that shows where everyone is going. It helps decide who should come, tells them how to prepare, and gives them a way to measure how well the meeting went. Here are some essential parts of a meeting agenda that can help you have a good meeting.

A comprehensive Agenda would typically look like this (but adjust it to your needs):

  • Desired Outcome: What you will have done by the end of the meeting.
  • Topics & Activities:  What you will talk about and do during the meeting.
  • (Optional) Preparation:  What people need to do before the meeting, and what they should bring.
  • (Optional) Rules: Rules for how people should act during the meeting.
  • (Optional) Roles: Each person is given a job during a meeting.

Desired Outcome

This is an essential item, and it is listed first on the agenda. Make sure you know what you want to achieve in the meeting to have a focused conversation.

By first figuring out the desired outcome of the meeting, you can then decide who to invite, assign them reading materials, and design Topics & Activities that will help the team reach the desired outcome.

You should start with a noun, not a verb! This is a small but significant difference. “To decide” or “To brainstorm” are verbs that are easy to write, but they don’t say what will happen. You want your desired outcome to be a tangible deliverable, a specific output, or a “thing”.

For some ideas, you can use any of these starter templates to write robust, desired outcomes:

  • A decision on…
  • A list of…
  • Agreement on….
  • Alignment on …
  • Answers to…
  • Completed…
  • Enriched version of…
  • Events scheduled…
  • Ideas for…
  • Next Steps to…
  • Stronger relationships among…

When you set the desired outcome for the meeting, you change the way people think about the meeting and how to get things done.

State what you will do to measure how well your meeting went when it is over. Evaluate the outcome of the meeting, not the discussion. Ensure your Desired Outcomes are noun-based phrases, not “to” + verb phrases.

Topics & Activities

Include the things to talk about, activities, and the decisions that need to be made. Make sure the meeting agenda items are linked to the Desired Outcome you want to achieve.

You can keep this as a simple list or supercharge your agenda by adding a time guide and responsible person to each topic. For example:

  • Check-in (All for 5 mins)
  • Review Dashboard (John for 5 mins)
  • Review Variances (John for 5 mins)
  • Discuss Open Issues (All for 30 mins)
  • Discuss Open Risks (John for 10 mins)
  • Determine Next Steps (Peter for 5 mins)

Agenda topics are like the “how-to” guide for your meeting. Each step is more likely to get done if you plan and follow through. You can ensure you’re not scheduling too much or too little time for the meeting’s work by giving an idea of how long each step will take. It will also help you move the conversation forward by saying, “We’re at the end of the reflection time. Let’s move on.”

Preparation (Optional)

This is an optional step, but here you can share documents, reference links, or recommended actions before the meeting. You can reduce the time needed for the “presentation” part of a meeting and allow the team to focus on reaching the Desired Outcome quicker in the meeting.

You can also prompt some preparation with leading questions.

An example:

Read the attached Project Status Report before the meeting (Approx. 20 mins)

  • What surprises or concerns you?
  • How can we address the Open Issues?
  • Do the mitigation plans on the Open Risks accurately manage the risks?

This type of preparation aims for productive meetings by enabling your team members to take in information on their own time and prepare their thoughts. Team members then have more time for active discussion during the meeting itself. Prompting the prework with your leading questions gives context and demonstrates respect for participants, so they are more likely to engage.

Rules (Optional)

Another optional step, but if needed, you can set ground rules for the type of meeting you want to have. Add context-specific norms to set people’s expectations and make it easier to participate.

These are the guidelines for how your team will collaborate during the meeting. Clear guidelines set expectations and guide the behaviour of team members. If the rules are not specified, people come in with different expectations, which may not be conducive to effective communication.

An example:

  • Please keep questions to the end of the presentation.
  • Raise your hand when you want to provide feedback.
  • Please turn your camera off during the presentation. However, please turn on your camera for increased engagement and collaboration when speaking.

Roles (Optional)

Sometimes, it’s unclear who will facilitate the meeting when we walk in. Take a moment to think of these roles and, if possible, assign team members to play these roles during the meeting.

  • Facilitator: Keep the team on track with the agenda items and ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Note-taker: Capture the key decisions, tasks, and general notes during the meeting.
  • Timekeeper: Remind people of meeting time constraints.

Assign each person a role so that they can help run the meeting. If it makes sense, rotate the team members’ roles from meeting to meeting.

An example:

  • John is our Facilitator to keep us on track with the agenda items and ensure everyone’s voice is heard.
  • Peter is our Note-taker to record learnings, decisions, tasks, and general notes during the meeting. Peter will give a high-level summary of the decisions and tasks at the end of the meeting.
  • Paul is our Timekeeper to remind us of the meeting time constraints.

By stating the roles upfront, people will know what their roles are, and the meeting leader can rely on their team-mates to help make sure the conversation is productive and recorded for future use.

It sounds like a lot of work. How long does it take?

Your team is probably wasting time, energy, and morale in unproductive meetings right now. If you spend ~5 minutes figuring out your meeting’s Desired Outcome, what Topics & Actions they should cover, and how to get ready, you will get back much more than you spent. When everyone is prepared to participate and the meeting agenda is clear, you will make every meeting productive.

In Summary

Start with the simple template of just two items, your (1) Desired Outcome and (2) the Topics & Activities. When needed, you can grow your agenda with additional optional items.

Happy Productive Meetings!

By Shaun Dicker

Agile Delivery Lead & IT Project Manager with 20+ years of expertise in software development & digital transformation projects, Shaun works alongside clients and agile practitioners to build & run modern software applications. He is a geeky husband 🤓 who enjoys 📈 project management, ✅ personal productivity, 📱 technology, the 🏞️ natural world, 🦸‍♂️ graphic novels & 🎮 video games.

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