Are your meetings organized AND focused?  Do you think they are the same thing?  As long as you’ve got an agenda you’re good to go, right?  WRONG!  You need a great agenda and you need to stick to it to have the most productive meeting possible.

Organized and Focused are bookends just like effective / efficient and appropriate / adequate.  You can be quite effective at killing a fly with a sledge hammer however your efficiency score will be very low.  You want both.  Just like in finance we always needed a reserve that was adequate (big enough) but we also wanted it to be appropriate (not too big) so that we didn’t hurt the bottom line unnecessarily or make poor decisions.  So it goes with Organized and Focused.  You want and need them both.

If you are organized but not focused your chances of accomplishing your desired outcomes decline and all the planning you did will be for naught.  Similarly, if you’re focused but not organized you may never address the reason you came together for.  So let’s talk about each and then how they work together.

To ORGANIZE your meeting start by writing down the answers to a few questions:

  • Why are you meeting?
  • What do you want to have accomplished by meetings end? Be specific.
  • How are you going to achieve the goal? (e.g., presentations, discussions, breakout sessions, voting, etc.)

Now start drafting your agenda.  Clear agendas drive successful meetings.  The agenda not only tells people what to expect, it provides logistical information (time/place), outlines the topics of discussions, sets the context and scope, lists key issues and states desired objectives.  I can’t believe how many meetings don’t have agendas and the ones that do usually leave off that last item … states the desired objectives.

A good agenda also lets attendees know what they need to be prepared for the meeting.  Do they need to review a chart set prior to attending? Should they bring relevant reports with them? Will they be required to make a decision or vote?

With the draft of your agenda you can fill in a few more blanks:

  • Who do you need in attendance to accomplish your goal? Based on the topics you outlined and actions required who needs to attend?
  • What resources do you need? (e.g., projector & screen, speaker, microphone, flip charts, fuel, etc. – more on this point in particular in an upcoming post)
  • How much time is required to cover each item on the agenda? Make sure the time allotted is adequate and  And, don’t forget breaks to refuel and energize.

As you polish your agenda you can add the timing and responsible parties for each topic.  This is also a good time to assign roles for conducting the meeting.  Who is going to lead it, who will be taking minutes, and who will be the gatekeeper (GK)?  The GK is responsible for keeping the team focused on the agenda, placing off-topic items in the “parking lot”, handling disruptive participants, and making sure everyone participates (and no one dominates) in the discussion.

Perfect segue into what it means for a meeting to be FOCUSED.

You’ve spent a fair amount of time creating an amazing agenda that not only states your objective but it also outlines your plan to achieve it.  The next logical step is to follow that plan.  Unfortunately, this is where a lot of meetings get derailed (whether they have an agenda or not).

Trust the plan you laid out.  Explain to your participants from the start that you will be parking ideas and topics that don’t keep to the agenda for follow up at a later date.  Introduce the people that will be conducting the meeting especially the minute-taker and the gatekeeper.  Outline the gatekeeper’s role and stress how this person will help the entire team stay on topic, accomplish more and preserve your most precious resources – your teams’ time.

You’ve set a beginning and an ending time for the meeting.  Build your meeting integrity quotient with your team by sticking to the timing.  As you’re going through each section of the agenda, have the GK remind everyone of the progress and remaining time on the topic.  Fifteen minutes into a thirty-minute section the GK should alert the participants that half the allotted time has elapsed and remind them again when there is ten minutes left.  The final five minutes should be a wrap up of the progress and take-away actions with responsible assigned parties.

I can hear some of you questioning why you should stop talking about an important topic if conversation is good, but it’s sometimes better to plan a second meeting to continue it rather than not address the rest of your agenda or worse yet go way over your allotted time.  If you’ve planned the timing well and used the GK appropriately the need to revisit shouldn’t happen very often.

What are some of your best practices for creating agendas and keeping your meetings on track?