Monday, November 14, 2011

Agendas and Action Items

Meetings are nearly always useless! I cannot count the number of meetings I attend with only a subject line attached to it. No agenda, no goals, only a nebulous statement of purpose. Then, the meeting goes on for at least 1.25 times as long as scheduled, and nothing gets done. Why?

The answer is fairly obvious. Without an agenda, and a meeting lead who can stick to it, most meetings degenerate into circular conversation with no decisions made. It is truly scary to see how quickly this can happen. As a project manager, I use to let the attendees set the pace for the meeting (mostly, because they were "smarter" than me in the subject matter). All this taught me was how much people like proving how smart they are (and potentially, how "dumb" you are).

Now, when I call a meeting, at a minimum I include a list of points of discussion. Whether those points are sensor feeds for a monitoring system that need to be clarified, the topic of how to fill the volunteer roles for our next meeting, or a discussion of how to raise more funds, I always include a list of points (if not a flushed out agenda with a timeline for each section, useful if you need to go from brainstorming to final decision).

But that is only half the battle. The other side of it is Action Items. A meeting is a waste of time without decisions, even if it is the decision to do more research. When the decision is made, there is ALWAYS actions to perform. That means these actions should be assigned to people who will be held responsible for them, and given a timeline for execution.

Why is that important? Because if there are no action items, no follow-up, then the meeting will repeat itself, because nobody will have moved the ball forward between the meetings. That is a scary waste of time.

Now, I will admit a weakness. I HATE taking minutes of meeting. I know they are REQUIRED (and yes I capitalized that word, because they are); but I have a hard time wanting to retype what people said just so everyone can have a record. However, I learned the hard way several times that a person's memory can be selective. Without minutes of meeting, well, they can "remember" a different outcome that is less troublesome than the one decided upon (someday I will share the story of why I record some of my meetings).

So, why share this advice today? Last week I had several meetings, one where there was no agenda, and no action items; one with an agenda, but no action items; and a third with no real agenda, but we got some action items down and reached some decisions. In all cases, we missed the mark, but at least in the last one, we moved the ball forward and left with a direction.

Why is this mark so hard to hit? Because it takes planning, work, and follow-through. So often we as leaders are comfortable with "work". The other two people tend to think take care of themselves...

This week, I am issuing a challenge to myself. I will submit an agenda for each meeting I attend (even if I am not the organizer, if one isn't provided), and at the end of the meeting, I will circulate minutes of meeting with action items. Hopefully, I can make this a stronger habit and cause some growth. Anyone care to join me?

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