ASK PAUL: One of the consistent complaints in our organization is the lack of an agenda for our meetings. Seems to me like it depends on size of the group and what will be discussed. Would appreciate your thoughts. Thank you, Denise

Hi Denise, during a recent training program a gentleman approached me after we discussed meetings and shared: I came here from the military and made a promise to myself that I would not attend a meeting unless an agenda was sent out prior to the meeting. I quickly learned that I would never attend a meeting! 

So, you are not alone in wondering about whether agendas are necessary or overrated.

Perhaps, the most useful way to think about this would be to start with the default being: NO AGENDA since that is the norm anyway. Then the question becomes, under what circumstances do we add an agenda?

These are my criteria:

  1. If it is a full day meeting, a request for agenda items and subsequent list of topics, outcomes, and time allocated is important.
  2. If people need to prepare on one or more of the agenda topics by reading, reflecting, or discussing with their own groups before the meeting, they need adequate time to do so. Expecting to put anything in front of people for the first time during the meeting and get the full value of their thinking and experience does not make sense.
  3. If you have attendees for whom English is their second language, it is courteous to give them time to think about the agenda before you meet.
  4. If you have people who might want to opt out of the meeting or only participate for certain sections, an agenda is helpful for them to plan their day. Plus, if certain topics require some members being there, an agenda noting this would help.
  5. If your meetings frequently run over or the conversation routinely gets off-track, adding a visible agenda with topic, outcomes, and timelines will definitely be worth doing.

You do not need an agenda when it’s a project review meeting and everyone knows exactly what will be discussed.

You do not need an agenda for meeting of less than two hours when you completely trust the person calling the meeting to be prepared and make very good use of your time.

One last caution: Not sending an agenda out before the meeting does not mean the leader gets a free pass on designing and thinking about the best way to conduct the meeting!   Good luck Denise.