Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Meetings Need Agendas and Minutes

meeting agenda written on whiteboard

I won’t attend meetings with no agenda. And I encourage everyone else not to do it, either. Waste of everyone’s time. And in case it’s not clear, “so that everyone can catch up on what’s happening” is not an agenda. -- Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company

One of the many things I learned in my years at HP and Agilent Technologies was the importance of a meeting agenda and meeting minutes - minutes that captured any decisions made, and any action items assigned. (Action items = corporate-speak for to-dos.) Those action items always had a name next to them, and a due date. There was also a section in the minutes called "parking lot" - for those items that came up in the meeting that weren't part of the agenda, but which we wanted to remember to address at another time.

So I was pleased to read Margaret's comments back in October 2010 - because now, long out of the corporate world, I'd found myself attending some meetings that didn't have agendas, and Margaret's words reminded me that this was a poor use of my time.

Margaret and I aren't the only ones who are pretty vehement on this subject. Here's Eric Matson of Fast Company; the "Schrage" he quotes is author and consultant Michael Schrage:
Get serious about agendas and store distractions in a "parking lot." It's the starting point for all advice on productive meetings: stick to the agenda. But it's hard to stick to an agenda that doesn't exist, and most meetings in most companies are decidedly agenda-free. "In the real world," says Schrage, "agendas are about as rare as the white rhino."
Next, here's Michael Doyle in his book How to Make Meetings Work!:
We can't emphasize enough: Everyone should know what to expect before coming to a meeting. ... If all participants receive a detailed agenda at least a day (preferably a week) before the meeting, they will come prepared.
And just today Seth Godin had a wonderful blog post - go read the whole thing, it's short - on what the ideal "meeting fairie" would do, including:
Ensuring that every meeting has a clearly defined purpose, and accomplishes that purpose, then ends.

Issuing a follow up memo to everyone who attended the meeting, clearly delineating who came and what was decided.
If anyone would like a template (a Microsoft Word .doc file, or a PDF) for a meeting agenda and minutes, send me your e-mail address and I'll be glad to send my template along to you. Then just customize it to meet your own needs!

[photo by Kalsau, found on Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons]


The English Organizer said...

This made me smile... even in the 'corporate' world, I've found myself attending meetings where nobody was quite sure who called the meeting, let alone what the intended agenda was!

Marcie Lovett said...

Jeri, this is one of my biggest pet peeves and another reason I'm thankful I don't work in the corporate world anymore.

As an organizer, I still have to attend meetings occasionally. I rearely get an agenda in advance, and am pleasantly surprised when one is offered at the meeting.

Now, if we could only get people to stick to the agenda and finish on time!

SueBK said...

Working in project management agendas and minutes fill my life. On one large project I was required to also maintain an issues register. I would type up the minutes and then transfer action items to the issues register. On the next project I got wise. My issues register is maintained in MS Access (database program). I added a few fields to my issues register and formatted a report that can print my list of current issues as either an agenda or minutes. For ongoing projects this ensures that issues that aren't dealt with immediately don't disappear into the ether.
The system has worked so well that I plan on keeping a permanent copy of the database for use on future projects.

Jeri Dansky said...

Marcie and The English Organizer: I imagine anyone who has spent time in the corporate world - or any type of bureaucracy - has a litany of meeting horror stories!

SueBK, as a project manager I always had an issues log. But mine was an Excel file, not a database - and I never did the nifty automation that you did. The Excel file was for ALL the logs I maintained; it had tabs for issues, action items, decisions, risks (for risk management), and change requests.