If you’ve ever manufactured a “scheduling conflict” to avoid attending a business meeting, you’re not alone. Many of us have done it—and truthfully, for good reasons. Business meetings can be a big time-suck, often because they’re perfunctory. Or, if not perfunctory, then inefficient.
I’m here to tell you this can change. Yes, business meetings can actually be productive, maybe even invigorating. With a little bit of work, they can be places where good ideas become even better and where the mission of your organization moves forward.
To make meetings more productive, you need to start with one simple step:
Make an Agenda that Means Something
A productive business meeting starts with a meaningful agenda, and that requires some forethought.
Pro Tip: Pulling the agenda from the last board or annual meeting and simply changing the date at the top is not the way to succeed here.
Yes, you can keep the agenda from the last meeting on hand as a reference. But instead of taking the “plug-and-play” approach with it, I suggest you start with a blank page and answer these questions first:
- What are your goals for this meeting? What exactly do you want to accomplish other than satisfying the bylaws’ requirement to hold a meeting?
- What crucial deadlines and decisions will the organization face in the next month, the next three months, and the next six months? Are there topics related to those deadlines and decisions that need to be discussed?
- What potential agenda topics dovetail with the organization’s strategic planning objectives?
- What are specific ways you can move the organization forward at this meeting?
- What topics are likely to generate the most controversy or discussion, and among which members? How will you help to facilitate a meaningful dialogue about those subjects?
Answering these questions helps to (1) identify topics that should be added or removed from the agenda and (2) clarify the purpose of the meeting, what you want out of it in the end, the role it plays in accomplishing strategic objectives, and who is likely to participate. Take the time to answer these questions, and you’ll likely find that you have plenty of content for a meaningful meeting.
Once you’ve answered the questions above, think about how to order the agenda to make the best use of attendees’ time. And when you think about what order of business would work best, know that there’s nothing magical about the “standard order of business” that we’ve all lived through more times that we can count.
Yes, you read that correctly: Approving the minutes and receiving committee reports doesn’t have to happen before you talk about business from the last meeting or about new business. If following the standard order works for you, great. But if not, then choose a different order. Seriously. As a parliamentarian, I’m giving you official freedom to mix things up and be more effective.
For example, you can choose an order that puts the heavy discussion items at a time when the attendees are likely to be the most engaged. Or you can order things in a way that ensures financial reports are discussed before topics that might require significant spending.
In short, craft your agenda in an order that makes sense from an efficiency perspective. After all, meetings aren’t like concerts or food where we “save the best for last.” No—put your “best” topics at a place in the agenda where attendees are in the best position to participate. You’ll be glad that you did, and frankly, they will be too.
One final note: If taking this approach to agenda drafting seems hard at the beginning, stick with it. I promise that it gets easier, or at least more comfortable and familiar. And the upside is huge: Once your members learn that you’re going to use their time well, they’ll come to meetings ready to invest and wanting to engage more.