Agenda management best practices

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A well-structured agenda is the foundation of an effective meeting. Whether you’re running a standup meeting or a team workshop, good agenda management will help you achieve your goals, stay on time and facilitate with confidence. 

But how should you go about creating an agenda? What are the best practices for using the agenda during a meeting and what do you do with your agendas afterwards?

In this guide we'll explain how you can take control of your agenda so that you can make the most out of your meetings and drive efficiency and collaboration within your organization.

Picture the worst meeting you’ve ever been in. Got it? Chances are, the session was unproductive, it was unclear what you were trying to achieve and discussions either overran or were missed entirely. Then, when the meeting was over, you had no greater clarity on what to do next and it felt like a waste of time. Did I get it right?

Bad meetings don’t need to happen. With a clear, structured meeting agenda it’s easy to keep a group on track, cover important agenda items and be more productive.

In this guide, we’ll explore the concept of agenda management and how it can help everyone from board members, managers and meeting facilitators improve the quality of their sessions.

What is agenda management?

Agenda management is the process of creating and organizing a structured plan for a meeting or discussion. It involves defining the meeting’s objectives, determining relevant topics, allocating time, and setting expectations for participants. 

The agenda serves as a blueprint, guiding the flow of the meeting, maximizing productivity, and ensuring that all important matters are addressed.

In a board meeting, for example, board members will have space to give reports, raise any other business and discuss important action items. An agenda management system will help keep all of this on track and help you manage the entire meeting process.

Before a session, the agenda manager or facilitator will distribute the agenda to all participants to ensure they’re prepared for what’s ahead and are able to attend. 

During the meeting or workshop, they’ll use the agenda to keep discussions on track, organize time and guide the team through all the items in an agenda effectively.

Finally, once a meeting has been completed, the agenda manager will collect notes, and consider how they might improve their agenda for next time.

Agenda management can save teams time and supercharge collaboration during a session. But it’s not always simple!

To be an effective agenda manager, it helps to have a proven process to follow and an agenda management solution that makes creating, collaborating and sharing your agenda easy. 

SessionLab is an effective agenda management tool that allows you to easily create and share agendas with your team. Simply drag, drop and reorder blocks to create your agenda.

Add instructions, attachments and notes to enrich your session. SessionLab saves you time by automatically adjusting agenda timing as you make changes. 

Running recurring council meetings? Create an agenda template with all your supporting documents attached. Want to collect and curate meeting agendas for your whole organization or team? Create a team workspace to keep all your agendas organized, ready to review, reuse and adapt. 

Want to learn more? Explore how SessionLab’s agenda builder can help you create and manage effective agendas that supercharge the process of meeting management.  

You might also find this selection of effective meeting agendas provides some inspiration for how expert facilitators go about creating and managing their agendas.

What are the benefits of agenda management?

Whether you’re running board meetings or project discussions, a well-structured agenda plays a vital role in achieving your desired outcomes. It’s the foundation for a productive discussion where all your participants are engaged and you leave with a sense of accomplishment and clear next steps.  

Local governments are often short on time and funds. Productive meetings that run on time and ensure all board members are heard can ensure your goals are met in a cost and time-effective manner.

Here’s why agenda management (and a good agenda management tool!) is important and how it can contribute to maximizing productivity and success.

Organization and Structure 

One of the key benefits of agenda management is bringing structure and organization to your sessions. By creating a clear agenda with each section outlined, participants are aware of the meeting’s purpose, what will be discussed, and how long you’ll have for each item. 

This structured approach allows for a more focused and efficient use of time, preventing discussions from veering off-topic, and ensuring that all essential matters are adequately addressed in the time you have. Without a clear, time conscious structure, it’s easy for council meetings to overrun or for agenda items to be missed.

Structure also helps ensure that you design effectively and thoughtfully. By blocking out your session from start to finish, you can quickly create a meeting flow that is fit for purpose and allows your group to achieve their goals.

Agenda management solutions helps facilitate this process by making it easy to create, refine and record your meeting agendas. In SessionLab, simply drag and drop blocks to create your agenda structure.

By adding clear timing to each agenda item, it’s easy to stay organized while designing and running your meeting. What’s more, SessionLab also automatically calculates your timing while you build your agenda, saving you time and eliminating the need for manual adjustments.

Increased Productivity

Unproductive meetings are a drain on team resources and morale. Who wants to attend a dull, unfocused meeting? Agenda management is a great tool for ensuring productivity in your sessions. 

By mapping out the meeting’s flow, you can design for engagement and productivity. You might include an energizer or give time for personal reflection during a creative session. During a decision making meeting, you might use the agenda to keep everyone focused on the task at hand and remove extraneous items.

Good agenda management solutions also include space to attach meeting materials and related documents. By circulating the meeting agenda and supporting documentation ahead of time and using them during the meeting, you can cut out busy work and ensure everyone is prepared and ready to contribute.

Having a clear sense of time and timeboxing sections of your agenda accordingly also ensures that everything is covered in the time you have. In our marketing team meetings, we might refer back to our agenda to establish whether a discussion has gone on for too long and move on accordingly. It also helps ensure we always keep in mind the purpose and aims of the meeting and take the best route to getting there.

Collaboration and Engagement 

A well-planned agenda enhances collaboration and encourages active participation among meeting attendees. Whether it’s public meetings or internal workshops, getting everyone onboard and ready to participate leads to better outcomes.

By clearly outlining the goals and expectations for each topic, agenda management provides a framework that enables everyone to contribute effectively. 

By sharing a view of your agenda items and meeting flow ahead of time, participants come prepared with relevant insights, ideas, and suggestions, which leads to more engaging and productive discussions. Additionally, involving team members in the agenda creation process motivates them to take ownership and responsibility for the meeting’s outcomes. You might even invite participants to help by taking notes or collecting follow-up actions. 

In SessionLab, it’s easy to invite team members to collaborate on your agenda. Make changes together in real-time, share agendas between teams and leave comments and notes to take your session to the next level. 

Time Management and Prioritization

One of the clearest signs your meeting agenda needs improvement is if you’ve gone way over time. Effective agenda management helps facilitators and participants effectively manage their time and prioritize tasks during the session. 

When designing an agenda, it can help to start blocking out everything you want to cover with a clear time attached. It quickly becomes clear if you are trying to cover too much! At this stage, a facilitator will often choose what to prioritize based on the goals of a session. If an activity or agenda item doesn’t fit and doesn’t help you achieve your objectives, maybe it needs to be cut!

When running your session, a timed agenda helps facilitate meeting management and makes it easy to stay on track. By allocating specific time slots for each agenda item, you and your participants can devote the right amount of time to each topic without making the session overrun.

After the meeting is complete, it’s often helpful to see how long your agenda items took and how you might adjust for next time. Did you need to timebox the general introduction so you have more time to set actions? An end-to-end solution makes it simple to reflect on every session and adjust your schedule so you can manage time more effectively. 

Accountability and Follow-up 

Agenda management also helps you and your team create a sense of accountability and follow-up. By clearly outlining action items, decisions, and responsibilities within the agenda, participants leave the meeting with a clear understanding of what needs to be done next. This clarity helps maintain accountability and ensures that necessary follow-up actions are taken in a timely manner. 

The agenda serves as a reference document for tracking progress, allowing participants to review previous discussions and commitments, check their status, and provide updates in subsequent meetings. Often, you’ll give council members or stakeholders space to suggest amendments and any other business too. This accountability fosters a culture of ownership and keeps teams aligned towards achieving their goals.

Best practices for successful agenda management:

Learning how to design, refine and manage great agendas is a combination of good preparation and a lot of practice. An agenda management system is a great start, but you’ll also need to consider how you create, share and use your meeting agendas in order to get the most out of your session.

In this section, we’ll cover some of the do’s and don’ts of agenda design and management, and share how top facilitators approach working with an agenda.

Define goals (and add them to your agenda)

The first step in creating an agenda is understanding the purpose of the session. The goal of a daily stand-up is entirely different from a team development workshop and the agenda should be designed with this in mind. 

Capture the session’s goal in a short and clear description. “Team alignment” is a bit too vague. “Aligning the team around our objectives for the next quarter” is much better. “Informing citizens about the new town square design” is a completely different thing from “Consulting citizens about their needs for new town square design” and will lead to a different agenda for the meeting.

Use the goal of the session to choose what goes in your agenda. When adding content, choose what will help you meet that goal and aim to cut or trim anything else. 

One common mistake is to keep the goal in mind while designing the agenda but then forgetting to include it in the session. Be sure to include the goal at the top of your agenda so that it’s impossible to overlook.

In most sessions, it’s also helpful to let participants know the goal of a session, either by including it on the agenda you share with them or letting them know at the beginning of the meeting. Adult learners are more likely to get onboard with what you’re doing and help you achieve the goal if they know why they’re doing it! 

Add clear timings to each item on your agenda 

Almost every meeting or agenda is bound by the time available to your group. When a meeting runs smoothly and you finish on time (or early), the result is elation. Go over time or fail to cover everything in your agenda and the result can be unproductive and deflating.  

Allocate a clear timing to each activity and section while designing your agenda to stay in control and give your session a clear structure. 

While running the session, the times you set will help you stay on track and cover everything needed. Effectively time-boxing each agenda item this way will also help you and your team stay focused. Five minutes left for one discussion? Let your team know and they can begin to wrap things up and move on. 

In SessionLab, it’s easy to build an agenda and stay in control of time. Add a clear timing to each block to get a quick sense of how long you have left and what you have to work with.

Timebox every item on your agenda and use it to make informed decisions. As you make changes, your timing will automatically update. Add a few extra minutes to one activity and instantly see how it affects your overall schedule. 

Use your agenda to make informed changes if needed

Agendas for simple, recurring sessions often stick to the plan. In these cases, you’ll likely follow your structure to the letter and have a productive meeting or training session. But what about workshops where you’re exploring things with the group and things may need to change? Should you throw your agenda away and start over? Quite the opposite – your agenda is a tool to help you make sensible and informed decisions about the session, even as it changes. 

It’s not uncommon for an activity to run over or for other business to emerge during a session. What your agenda allows you to do is to check your goal and understand what will best help you meet that goal with the time available to you. It can also be helpful to include buffer time between activities so that you have space if something emerges in the moment. Combined with effective facilitation skills, your agenda provides the means to run your session effectively.

Simple agenda for participants, detailed agenda for you

Sharing the agenda with your participants and clients is best practice, but do they need all of your detailed notes, instructions and links? Probably not. 

Share a simple overview of your agenda with your participants to help them understand what’s coming and be prepared without getting bogged down in the details. Be certain to include timings so that you can stay on track with a quick glance. If you can, use color customization and clear sections to make the agenda clearly legible, even in a rush. 

Create a detailed view with clear timings for each activity and any necessary instructions to help facilitate your own process. Add facilitation notes, worksheets, materials and anything else you need to run an effective session. In SessionLab, it’s easy to customize and share your perfectly-timed agenda in a format that works for you!

Be realistic 

Packing your agenda with what you’d like to get done without keeping a firm grasp on time is a surefire way to have an unproductive session. Trying to cram an entire strategy creation process into thirty minutes creates unrealistic expectations and means the session isn’t fit for purpose.

Be realistic about how much time each activity will take and make this clear on your agenda. At the design stage, this will help ensure that you create an agenda that will actually fit into the time you have and you can make informed decisions about what to include and what to leave behind.

Remember that it’s okay to say that a topic won’t be covered if there are other priorities, if it doesn’t match your goal or if you simply don’t have time. Perhaps you can work on those extra items asynchronously, or schedule a future meeting.

Prioritize agenda items based on your goal 

It’s not uncommon to want to include more items to your agenda than will fit in your allocated time. So how do you choose what to keep and what to cut? Always refer back to the goal of your session.

Your goal is the guiding principle of your agenda design and if you’re wondering what to keep and what to cut ask yourself if each item helps you achieve the goal of the session. 

For example, if you’re running a workshop on project kickoff, you’ll absolutely want to clarify the aims of a project, have space to share expectations and decide on clear next steps. Should that kickoff include any deep work or discussions about deeper company strategy? It would be great if we had time for it, but if we don’t, leave those items for the next meetings.

For a 15-minute daily stand-up, your agenda needs to be concise and to the point to ensure you cover only those things you need to align quickly and unblock your team. This isn’t the place to resolve inter-team conflicts, nor discuss your company finances in depth.

In some cases, you might have a series of discussion points in your agenda you want to work through with your team. A good facilitator will aim to time-box each item so that everything is covered, but it’s also possible that you can’t cover everything in a single meeting.

Try to prioritize such items based on importance to stakeholders or even do a quick voting session in the meeting. Whatever method you choose, be sure to approach the order of items in your agenda thoughtfully and with the goal of the session in mind. 

Remember to include logistics and supporting materials 

An effective agenda is one that helps you successfully facilitate all aspects of your meeting or workshop. In addition to an overall structure and timing, a good agenda will include details, instructions and materials – everything you need to lead a great session!

Running a virtual meeting with breakout rooms? Add your Zoom (or Teams) and (Miro or) Mural links to specific blocks in the agenda. Collaborating with guest speakers or a co-facilitator? Assign people to the parts of the agenda they’ll be leading and attach instructions and materials too! Having everything you need in one place can help keep you organized and avoid getting flustered while looking for missing worksheets. 

Remember that a meeting is only productive if people actually make it to the session. Be sure to include key logistics on your agenda too! Date, time and location are often the bare minimum, but you may also wish to include information such as equipment needed, who will be present and any other expectations or restrictions. 

Share the agenda ahead of time

Sending the agenda to participants in advance allows them ample time to prepare, research, and organize their thoughts. For example, you might attach the agenda to an invitation email, ping a Slack channel or update your company Notion. This ensures that everyone enters the meeting with a clear understanding of the objectives and an opportunity to contribute effectively. 

If you’re collaborating with a co-facilitator or need to get sign-off from a client, you’ll likely want to invite them to collaborate on your agenda. Invite your collaborators to your SessionLab agenda in one click and control editing and viewing rights with ease. Make changes together in real-time and add comments and notes to refine your agenda.

Sharing your agenda with colleagues and discussing any fine points before the meeting is a great way to get aligned and prepare for the session ahead.

Review the agenda the start of the session

The start of a meeting is a great moment to briefly review the agenda and remind the group of what will be covered. It can help set the stage and align everyone’s expectations, providing a roadmap for the discussion ahead. 

I find it especially useful to let the group know the limits of the agenda and understand what won’t be covered during the meeting. This can prevent the session from being derailed and that everyone is moving in the same direction.

In an online meeting, you might share your screen or invite participants a simple online version of the agenda. Alternatively, printout your SessionLab agenda and add it to your meeting packets alongside any other meeting documents you need!

Use agenda management software 

Excel is great for spreadsheets, but it isn’t designed for building and managing effective agendas. Using a tool expressly designed to help you save time and effort designing agendas will help you take control of your sessions and have more productive meetings.

SessionLab is a easy-to-use tool that makes creating and managing agendas simple. Drag, drop and reorder your blocks to build your agenda in just a few minutes. SessionLab will automatically calculate your timing as you make changes, saving you time on manual calculations.

When you’re ready for feedback, invite stakeholders to review and approve the agenda. Be prepared for your session by creating a professional, customizable printout to support your process.

Keep records (and reuse your agendas!)

Even when a session is over, you aren’t done with your agenda. Keep a record of all your agendas and keep them organized so you can easily find and reuse them in the future. Make running your regular council meetings a breeze by duplicate your well-designed structured and amending for any small changes.

Add notes and minutes to your sessions to keep everything together and ensure that any learnings or actions are effectively captured.

If you’re working with a team, your best agendas are an opportunity to share best practices, reuse your best content and ensure consistency. Not only can you save time in the process, but you can create a culture of good meetings and efficient meeting management across your organization.

Reflect and adapt  

The best facilitators build feedback loops and opportunities for reflection into their agenda management process. Seek feedback from participants on the effectiveness of the agenda and make adjustments accordingly. The end of a session is a great time to ask for quick feedback.

I’ve found that simply asking participants to let me know what was good and what could have been improved has given me valuable insights for how to improve my agenda. You might also include a quick poll or invite people to give feedback in a follow-up email. 

After you’re done, spend some time personally reflecting on what parts of your agenda made it easy to run your session and what got in the way. Upon reflecting on some some in-depth sessions, I’ve found myself lost without supporting materials and links. For others, a simple prompt with clear timings has been sufficient, allowing me to be more present in the workshop process. Adapt your agenda based on your reflections and see how it impacts your future sessions.

Conclusion

Agenda management plays a vital role in helping an organization maximize the efficiency and success of workshops and meetings. By bringing structure, organization, and focus to your agenda, you and your participants are able to make the most of their time together and collaborate effectively. 

Embracing this practice will not only optimize meeting effectiveness but also positively impact overall work dynamics, paving the way for increased productivity and success in the long run.

Want to go further? Explore how to write a meeting agenda to see a step-by-step process in action. Feeling like your agenda is ready but you are not? Read up on our best tips for how to facilitate meetings. Running a more in-depth session? Our guide to workshop planning will help you structure and organize impactful workshops with ease.

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