Meetings with a Mission, Part 8: Prioritize and Prepare the Agenda

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

8. Prioritize & Prepare the Agenda. 

Assuming you've received input from your team on what you need to meet about (Part 1), and assuming you've set a reasonable time frame for the meeting (Part 7), you are ready to do the next important steps: prioritizing and preparing your agenda.  

First, let's consider prioritization of a meeting agenda.  Even though you may have a number of things you absolutely need to discuss, and even though your timeframe may be reasonable, you probably do not have time to completely discuss everything on your list. This is a step which ensures a reality check.  Therefore, prioritize the items on your agenda.  

I go through a quick mental process to help me with this step when creating my own meeting agendas.  I simply look at each item, and as the manager, I make an executive decision on the priority of each agenda item.  With red pen in hand, I mark each agenda item with a 1 or 2 to indicate the following:

  1. Primary.  We must discuss these items because they are urgent to the company and its mission and vision, as well as to my team and our mission and vision.
  2. Secondary.  We may or may not get to these items depending on the content and flow of the discussion.  There may be a priority to these secondary items, and this is a great opportunity I often give to my team to choose what they want to discuss when we are done with the primary items.

Second, the preparation of a meeting agenda is very, very significant.  If the agenda is prepared properly, it can serve you and your team in multiple ways beyond the meeting itself.  There's no need to do something twice, so if you think enough about the agenda before the meeting, you can enable your team to build a multi-tool and leave the meeting ready to work.  

For all my meeting agendas I have learned that there are three distinct and necessary parts.  They may seem redundant.  But if you follow Part 9 correctly, you'll have an incredibly useful record of the three most important gears of any and every meeting with a mission.  Everyone will leave empowered, equipped, and envisioned for what's next.
  • Discussion.  Every agenda item should have a discussion area.  This is a place where team members can take their own notes.  The appointed note-taker (Part 9) is also taking down his or her version.  But they are more focused on collecting and gathering a "play-by-play" of what was discussed on each agenda item.  
  • Decision.  The meeting leader (Part 3) comments throughout the discussion of each agenda item when it becomes apparent that a decision has been made.  Unless you are in a board meeting and have to follow some set of official meeting rules (e.g. Robert's Rules of Order), decisions will probably not arise as part of an official vote.  Instead, they will organically form.  They will the apparent fruit on the tree of your discussion.  The meeting leader should pick the fruit, show it to everyone, and everyone should write it down so that the team is clear that a decision has been made.
  • Delegation.  With a decision made, someone's got to do something.  Nothing will actually get done in terms of implementing a decision, unless someone takes on the various responsibilities connected to it.  It is the meeting leader's role to lead the team in discovering those various responsibilities.  At this point he or she should (a) ask for a volunteer, or (b) suggest that a particular team member take it on who may be the most qualified to get it done.  Ultimately, this list of delegated responsibilities is the action-item list.
At the end of the meeting agenda I have a summary section with the decisions and delegations that have been made.  Depending on the size of the team I'm leading, I may sometimes act as the appointed note-taker (Part 9) and collate the decisions and delegated action items into one.  If someone else is the note-taker it becomes their responsibility to do this.  

Methods & Practicalities

One final word of advice is helpful here on what format to use for preparing a meeting agenda.  There are two tools which I've found contain three particularly helpful elements: simple, collaborative, and cloud-based.  

  • Google Docs 
In short, I have found it indispensable to use a cloud-based format such as Google Docs.  This tool allows me to construct a meeting agenda which can be shared with all team members involved (Part 4).  When getting input from team members on agenda items (Part 1), each person can insert comments and/or notes, to which others can respond.  

Then, in each item of the agenda - discussion, decision, delegation - the appointed note-taker can simply have a laptop or tablet open and take notes in each section.  At the end of the meeting, scrolling up and down to find decisions and delegated tasks can be followed with a simple copy/paste command to the summary area at the end of the meeting agenda.  

The beautiful thing about Google Docs is that whenever changes are made, everyone on the team with whom the document is shared will be alerted to changes via email, allowing them to open, view, and respond.  If you have a Gmail address, feel free to use the Sample Meeting Agenda by accessing it with this link (Sample Meeting Agenda), and selecting from the menu, File / Make a Copy, renaming it for your own uses.  It will be saved under your Google Drive under "My Drive."  If you want to access a simple tutorial, approximately 3 minutes long, access this link: Google Docs in Plain English.

  • Symphonical
The next most essential tool I've used in recent months is Symphonical.  There are a variety of "walls" that can be created, each of which can be contributed to via different team members who can be invited via their Google or Facebook address.  I've created a wall called "Meeting Agenda."  Any number of columns can be added, deleted, moved, revised, and renamed at anytime.  See my sample Meeting Agenda wall here.  You'll notice that the columns reflect the discussion, decision, and delegation format, with an additional "completed" column on the right, where all completed items may be dragged-and-dropped after marking "finished."

Take the Symphonical tour here when you have an opportunity.  If you're a Basecamp user, you'll find that it contains all the elements found in that great piece of software combined in a way that is more user-friendly and intuitive, while surfaced with the look and feel of the "sticky note" wall we are all familiar with. I moved our company away from Basecamp a couple of months ago for this reason.  

In addition, we recovered a good chunk of change into our operating budget since Symphonical is free, in addition to being better. (There is a premium version available for $4.99 per month which I opted to utilize for the calendar feature.) Symphonical, like Google Drive, is also responsive, which means you can access and manipulate data easily on any sized mobile device.  Symphonical is working hard on a native mobile app they hope to release soon, they tell me. 

Read Part 9: Appoint a Note Taker

About the Author: Rob is a follower of Jesus at Jubilee Church, where he works as an entrepreneur and operations contractor in Woodstock, GA. From there he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 19 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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