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What’s on the agenda? How to run effective meetings

An unorganised meeting can be exhausting and is guaranteed to leave employees unmotivated. An agenda is a crucial tool every project manager should be utilising.

Ensuring each meeting has a clear direction and structure can be the difference between the success or failure of a task. We’ve put together some helpful things to consider when planning a meeting.

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Why are agendas so important?

As a project manager, you’re responsible for overseeing all elements of a task. This is a fast paced and high pressure role which means your time will need to be used effectively. A commonly used strategy here is holding infrequent but productive meetings to keep all team members up to date on timelines, deadlines and workload.

You should look to avoid holding meeting more than is necessary as they can take up a lot of time that could be spent on other more pressing duties. This is where the agenda comes in.

Since meetings take up so much of our working hours, it’s better to ensure that maximum productivity is achieved, by ensuring there is a clear outline in place. It allows you to cover all relevant areas and will avoid any further meetings that should have been included. Its aim is to help guide everyone and allow them to leave the meeting with fewer questions than when they walked in. 

How to plan an effective agenda

1. Define the reasons and goals of your meeting

A good place to start is to ask yourself, what is the purpose of this meeting? As a project manager you will be expected to know all the intricate details of a project and meetings will help you to keep up to date with each team member’s progress. The purpose of a meeting could be to review a task and to ensure the work has been spread evenly across the team.

When established the purpose you must also consider what conclusions you want to be drawn from the meeting. Here you can set some goals that you want to be achieved by the end. For example; the goal could be to determine deadlines and who’s responsible for each milestone.  

Once you’ve finalised the purpose and the goal, you will be prepared for the next steps to fill in the details between. It is also worth sharing with the team these two elements prior to the meeting so they are on the same wavelength.

2. Determine the relevant attendees

When writing your agenda, it is vital that you identify who actually needs to be present. You want to avoid inviting someone to a meeting where everything discussed is irrelevant to them. This should be as accurate as possible to avoid wasting anyone’s or further yet, the company’s time.

 Consider who you will need in order to reach your planned goals. It will need to include everyone who will be affected by the meeting, especially if you are announcing a big change. The people should be of a level where they will feel competent enough to be in the meeting, to avoid anyone with the lack of suitable skills being in attendance. Review the team structure, if you invite someone’s line manager it may not be vital that you invite them also. Invite people who have the correct resources and relevance and you should have it covered.

3. Gather all your resources prior to the meeting

It’s important to write down the agenda so it is a clear tangible resource to share out and refer to. Set some time aside to prepare it professionally as a document or email, no one will take a last minute scribble seriously and it could damage the trust you have with your team. This will also ensure you have time to decide which points should be addressed in which order and can allow you to set reasonable time limits for each item. You can also examine which questions should be asked at each point being raised to have a more clear idea of how long they may take to cover. 

Once you’ve completed the list, be sure to share it with all proposed attendees and you should also aim to display it once the meeting commences to keep the focus.

4. Ask attendees to prepare their own notes

One of the most vital parts of being a project manager is listening to your team. Leading a meeting is much the same and you should be sure to allow everyone time to raise their questions, comments and opinions. Sharing the agenda with everyone and encouraging them to prepare their own notes is a great way to ensure the meeting is as productive as possible. The attendees will have time to acquaint themselves with discussion topics, formulate any relevant information or ask illustrative questions before the meeting.

5. Go through the standing agenda in order

Avoid confusion by reordering your points during the meeting. The whole point of an agenda is to keep things on track and avoid too much deliberation, straying from it completely defeats the point and will undo all your hard work. 

This can sometimes be difficult when attendees start to go on tangents but it’s your job as the meeting manager to bring them back to the topic at hand. This will also be helped due to the team having seen the agenda prior to the meeting and you can implement a relevant strategy to ensure everyone isn’t talking at once. You want to avoid restricting anyone’s input and people bouncing off one another can create productive ideas so it’s all about identifying the correct balance of freedom and order.

If you trust in your agenda’s structure and tick off each point as you go, you’re set to have a perfectly efficient meeting.

6. Conclude with actionable points

To maximise the productivity be sure to agree on exactly what everyone’s actions will be and a timeline in which they should complete them. This will ensure you can track their progress effectively and will also mean that each individual attendee will have a clear plan to follow. Forming KPI’s are also a great way to measure the success following the meeting as it gives each person a specific end goal, whether quantifiable or not. For example; a project may need more help and therefore a recruiter could be given the KPI of enlisting 5 further qualified team members in the next 3 months.  

A follow up meeting should be booked in, so each member is aware of when they will be expected to discuss their progress. Thanks to your agenda, you will have tangible notes to refer back to, to avoid any confusion in the future.

7. End on a motivating note

Successful meetings should end with all attendees feeling motivated and ready to attempt their next tasks. Following the tips above should have ensured all of this is met and you can end the meeting with a clear conclusion and action plan. You could now cement this through a task management software such as Basecamp or Trello.

Taking the extra time to prepare this way is a great way to boost the trust you team has in you as a manager and will ultimately lead to a more efficient workforce.