Why an Agenda?
Not every meeting needs a formal agenda — sometimes the meeting is exploratory in nature and an agenda would just limit the creativity of the meeting. Even so, the meeting has a goal or set of goals. Most meetings of any size require a stated goal and adherence to it. An agenda is a plan for the meeting. We all know the “fail to plan, plan to fail” saying. This holds true for a meeting, and the multiplier effect means the need to stay in bounds is multiplied over the number of participants.
Execution of an Agenda.
Without advanced publishing of the agenda, there is little time for acceptance of that agenda. Get the agenda out there, and give participants a chance to request a change or addition to it. You may even be rewarded by a team member providing you with information in advance of the meeting, because the agenda highlighted the need for it.
Once the meeting has started, organize the meeting in such a way that the most critical points are covered first, if possible. We know how often meetings conclude with a hard stop without hitting the main goal because lesser items took over. Especially if the agenda item is critical, resist straying from it until it is fully handled.
Ask meeting participants to help you stay on topic. If they have permission to do so, they are more likely to comment when they see the conversation is straying. Otherwise they may consider it impolite or even insulting to try to pull the conversation back. But you as the host have the primary responsibility. Don’t be slow in asking the members to return to the main topic, or asking a side conversation of little meeting value be taken off-line.
Watch the Clock
A meeting is a miniature project. You want to complete the “project” on time, on budget, and successfully. You’ve set an agenda which should be achievable in the time given for the meeting. So monitor your progress towards completion. If a topic is taking too long, decide if another item should be dropped to make time, or if the topic should be shortened to preserve time for the other items. Approach the meeting with intention, and use your project management skills to succeed.
Look to the Next Meeting
Most likely another meeting will follow this one. If that is not the case, it is even more vital to complete the agenda items during this meeting. But if there are to be subsequent meetings, you have a larger “project” in view: the entire series of meetings. So is this meeting playing its part in the series? If not, rest assured others besides you feel it. No one likes wasted meeting time, and they are anticipating future meetings in the series being likewise wasteful. Your reputation can go either way depending upon the way your meetings are going.
Close on Time or Get Permission
If you’ve been watching the clock and the meeting is likely to go long, ask before the end time hits if everyone is OK going longer and give those who are not permission to drop. Give those who must leave opportunity to give a final comment. Or, if you feel a meeting extension will be insufficient, take the last couple of minutes to schedule a follow-up meeting. Don’t force someone else to be late to an upcoming meeting! Remember the multiplier effect.