The secret of your success
Is determined by your daily agenda!
                                             –  John Maxwell

So what’s on your agenda for the week?  It will be shortened due to Labor Day, but if you are like so many others I know, a shortened week simply means that five days of work will be accomplished in four.  Miriam Webster gives us two definitions for the word, “Agenda”, (1) a list or outline of things to be done; (2) an underlying often ideological plan or program.  So let me rephrase my previous question, What is on your agenda for this week, and what is your agenda this week?  It puts a little different spin on things doesn’t it? When considering our upcoming week this way, it almost makes one consider their calendar from a Simon Sinek “Why, How, What” perspective.  Our “agenda” becomes our “Why”, the scheduling becomes our “How” and the events are the “What”.  Remember, all three are critical to our success.

Some posts I’ve enjoyed and meetings attended over the past few weeks have served to illustrate the importance of having and sometimes not having an agenda.  The first instance demonstrated what not to do.  Recently I attended a planning meeting for an event scheduled to occur next Spring.  The committee chairman began the session with the statement, “I didn’t really plan an agenda for this meeting.”  So what happened?  After an hour and a half during which discussion bounced from one topic to another, very little had been finalized.  At the meeting’s conclusion I suggested that an agenda be developed and shared for future sessions thus enabling committee members to better prepare.  My comment was, “duly noted”.  The frustration on my face must have been evident because upon leaving the meeting another committee member approached me and said, “That was an utter waste of time.  I may resign from the committee.”  When you call a meeting to plan for an event, have an agenda.  It gives direction and serves to stimulate thought.  It also signals those involved that you have made an investment in the success of the meeting.  Time is the most precious commodity we have, don’t waste your own nor that of others. (By the way, three weeks out and still no minutes from that planning meeting)

The antithesis to my first meeting occurred during a conference call this past week.  The call involved eight of us who are planning a Veterans Day luncheon next November.  The event serves as a major fund raiser and will feature a nationally known speaker.  A week prior to the meeting our committee chair shared the “tentative” agenda.  It provided a skeletal overview of items that would be discussed during the meeting.  His email solicited our input regarding the topics appearing on the agenda and asked for any additional items that needed to be considered by the group.  A final agenda and the call-in number were sent to the group three days prior to the scheduled call.  Our discussion lasted about forty-five minutes.  All topics on the agenda were discussed, some new ideas were suggested, and everyone agreed that we had accomplished much.  The call ended with a sense of excitement and more important, an eagerness to begin the tasks at hand.  Within two hours of the meeting’s completion, one committee member reported back (via a group email) that he had completed one of his assigned tasks.  There is no question in our collective minds that this event will be a huge success and much of that can be attributed to our chairman’s planning and communication skills. Here is a committee chair that understand the “Why, How, and What” value of an agenda.

Intentionally not having an agenda is a third option, especially when the meeting calls for open, honest, and creative discussion of complex issues such as; challenges facing the organization, plotting a course for the future, organizational restructuring, cost containment, etc..  So what is the value?  Remember, beyond informing those attending what will be considered during the meeting, an agenda also serves to create defense mechanisms, which will serve to compromise creativity.  Ever heard this, “Did you see what’s on the agenda?  It’s important we hang together on this one. I don’t care what the data says, our approach works.  You support me and I will support you!”  The walls are being built before the meeting ever starts.  So why not use the meeting to create a collaborative agenda that will serve as the basis for future meetings? How?

  • Provide participants with a pre-meeting activity that gets them thinking.  It could be a case-study that parallels a challenge being faced by your organization.

  • Begin the meeting by having participants reflect upon the pre-meeting activity and write their responses to a challenge question on 4 X 6 “Post-its”.  This activity begins to focus on the issue that needs to be addressed. (No names on the notes)

  • Post the sticky notes for everyone to see in an anonymous way so that no one knows who suggested what.  Provide time for a “gallery walk” and ask them to look for themes, connections, and replicating ideas.  Cluster these thoughts.  This process does two things, it helps organize the content, but equally important lets everyone see what is on everyone else’s mind.

  • Identify the discussion topics that emerge from the clusters.  Encourage open discussion. What becomes obvious? Where is there disagreement?  Where is there obviously no need for discussion.  

  • Listen, listen listen!  The discussion will begin to reveal the real topics that need to be discussed.  The ideas expressed in this meeting can then be noted and used as the basis for your next team gathering.

An agenda certainly helps us organize and get the best use of the time we spend in meetings, but don’t forget that other agenda; the personal one that guides our interactions with others, our hopes, our dreams, and our realities.  I try to let the words of Zig Ziglar guide my agenda, “If you help others get everything they want out of life, you will get everything you want!” Have a great week and,

Embrace the Challenge!