The art of creating an effective meeting agenda
How to structure a purposeful agenda for your next meeting.
Running better meetings might feel like an abstract goal, even when you have tools to guide your process. When we’re in need of some concrete inspiration, we turn to the companies we admire—like Google and Zapier—to see how they design their meetings. And we can’t help incorporating their insightful, actionable toolkits and guides into our own processes. As with anything in life, a little bit of planning makes all the difference between lofty ideation and execution. A thoughtful agenda is crucial to running a meeting where everyone knows what is being discussed and how they can contribute meaningfully to the conversation. In this article, we break down the steps behind creating a meeting agenda that will improve your team’s productivity. A meeting agenda is a to-do list for your meeting—your meeting goals. And while they’re not required, most productive meetings have them. At Coda, we often kickoff meetings by crowdsourcing the agenda topics in real time with voting tables. With this simple ritual, we work to eliminate bias, support our remote team members, and collaboratively prioritize the topics that should be discussed first. And because it’s a table, we can take notes alongside the discussion topics and action items for the next meeting (which makes for more organized meeting notes). The core of a meeting agenda is a group of discussion topics or tasks to accomplish during the meeting. Beyond that, the breadth of your agenda will depend on the meeting itself. If this is a standing or informal meeting that you’ve had weekly for the past year, then your agenda may be an informal mix of old and new business. If you’re in a planning meeting or creating a board meeting agenda, you might include the purpose, goal, and guidelines of the meeting. Designing a good meeting agenda is an art form—one that gets easier with practice. When creating an agenda, think less about the writing aspect and more about the elements that you need to set up a successful meeting. These are some of the most important things you should consider including in an agenda.
- Goals. Identifying goals shows attendees what needs to be accomplished in the meeting.
- Outline. List topics to discuss with clear and concise information about them that does not overwhelm attendees.
- Themes. Identify themes that will tell colleagues the topics they can expect to learn more about during the meeting.
- Supporting documentation. Point attendees to content, copy, decks, links, and presentation materials that will provide insight into the meeting.
- Allow time for each topic. Structure and schedule time for each topic so you can provide everyone with a chance to discuss them.
- Discussion. Carve out a few minutes at the end of the meeting to allow people to ask questions and share their thoughts. At this point in the meeting, attendees can bring up issues you may not have thought about.
- Final review. Use this point in the meeting to solicit feedback from attendees about what could be improved for following meetings. This time can also be used to recap meeting topics.
1. Distributed team meeting agenda.As the CEO of a 100% distributed company, Wade Foster had to come up with unique ways to run his weekly staff meeting. Check out this template to see Zapier’s meeting workflow, including how Wade worked a pre-meeting health check into the agenda items.
2. SMART goals meeting template.In 2020, the Underscore VC team found themselves in the middle of what they call “systems hell.” As they found their way to a better place, they created a roadmap of templates for goal-setting, decision-making, weekly check-ins, and standing meetings. Use their template to work SMART together.
3. Gamified meeting toolkit.This aptly named framework uses games to incentivize participation in meetings. And you don’t have to create the games on your own. This gamestorming doc includes templates for 21 games to help you prep your meeting agenda, broaden ideas, prioritize ideas, and move toward a decision.
4. One-on-one meeting guide.Jessica Powell is a former Google VP and author of “The Big Disruption: A Totally Fictional but Essentially True Silicon Valley Story.” She’s captured her insights on successful employee-manager relationships in this guide to great 1:1 meetings. Managers, use this doc to 1) set expectations, 2) focus your 1:1 meeting agendas, and 3) connect short-term and long-term goals.
5. Inclusive meeting toolkit.At Coda, we believe that everyone’s voices matter. This inclusive meeting toolkit describes the rituals we use to make sure everyone is heard, like sending out a pre-read and using a voting table to avoid bias. Copy the doc for a meeting agenda and Q&A combo.
6. Meeting agenda etiquette guide.When transitioning to a distributed team, we asked ourselves here at Coda what it meant to be polite in a digital workspace. And while the focus of this guide is on doc collaboration generally, the best practices we crowdsourced can certainly be applied to any meeting agenda. Use our doc etiquette guide to create a more convenient space for collaboration.
7. Timed presentations with Q&A.At Coda, Stats ‘n’ Stories is our weekly knowledge-sharing meeting. We use strict timekeeping so each presenter is able to get enough time to speak and question voting per topic so folks in the large attendee list can all be heard. Agendas help drive meetings forward. Without them, attendees may feel like they lack direction and focus on what needs to be accomplished or discussed. With an agenda, people will understand the purpose of the meeting which gives them a chance to prepare for items they need to focus on—keeping everyone working towards their goals. Templates that can easily be repurposed for agendas is one way to build a culture that embraces effective and productive meetings. For almost every type of meeting you need to schedule, chances are there’s a toolkit or template that will help create the right agenda for your needs. By implementing some of these examples, you’ll signal to your company and colleagues that you’re serious about making meetings as productive as possible. It takes some work to craft a meeting agenda, but the time spent investing in one will save time for everyone by clearly stating the topics, objectives, and goals of the meeting well before they attend.
Set up your next meeting’s agenda in Coda.
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