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Want Better Meetings? Follow This One Golden Rule

Posted July 4, 2014 by Lindsay Bosch in On the Ladder
Five businesspeople at boardroom table


There are days were I feel like meetings will be the death of me. One after the other, each sit down adds to the to-do list, and then cruelly cuts into the time I need to actually do the work. Though useful to push projects forward and touch base with my colleagues, long meetings can suck needed hours out of the workday.

One day a few months ago I came home complaining to my husband about a staff meeting that ballooned to four hours. It was an important session, we all had a lot to say, and to report in on, but the time just got away from us.

“What was the objective,” he asked.

“Well, just to…you know…to meet. To report to one another.”

“Well, How did you get off agenda?”

“There wasn’t an agenda per say. We all took turns reporting out.”

“No agenda. No meeting,” my (unsympathetic) husband offered.

I took it to heart. For the last few months this has been my golden rule: No agenda, No meeting.

Every single meeting I call, no matter how small, I draft a short agenda of the proposed conversation and topics to be covered. When I am invited to a meeting, either in my office or with other departments (or even with outside clients) I write and ask for an agenda in preparation. (My hope is if they haven’t written one, my note will prompt them to do so.) I’ve gone so far as to draft agendas for other people’s meetings. (I don’t call it an agenda, but I send a message along the lines of: Hey Jane, Just double-checking that these six points are what we are hoping to focus on in our sit down Tuesday….)

Maybe this “Golden Rule” is obvious. It seems a given that meetings should have an agenda – but we know from experience this just doesn’t always happen. With so many meetings on the books, the agenda tends to go out the window fast. So many of the meetings we have seem rote: weekly check-ins with supervisors, informal chats with our staff, and regular sit-downs to “touch-base” on monthly projects. I’ve often fallen into the trap of – “We’ll keep it casual” or “We’ll figure out the plan in the meeting.”

 Resist the urge to wing it!

In my few months of adhering to the rule, I’ve found my meeting to be shorter, more focused, and ending with clearer outcomes for all participants. There are great benefits in sticking to the “No Agenda, No Meeting” Rule.

  • An Agenda Keeps You On Track – You’ll avoid talking about the weather, or about tangential work not related to the task at hand. A brief agenda allows you to make sure you are covering the crucial things and gives you license to leave the rest at the door.
  • An Agenda Reminds People Your Time is Valuable – Sending an agenda lets people know you don’t have all day; that your time is valuable. Perhaps more importantly, it lets others know that you value their time as well.
  • An Agenda is a Reference Document – What did you cover in May’s meeting?? Perhaps you had a bored note taker, or wrote yourself some illegible sticky notes…but calling up your archive of old agendas will let you quickly review what was previous covered
  • An Agenda is a Holding List for Ideas – My thoughts wander, and I’ve been known to shoot my helpless colleagues email after email, as thoughts come to me on a project. Remember your ideas, and give them a place (besides your colleagues inboxes), by adding them to an upcoming agenda.
  • An Agenda Helps You (and Others) Prep – No surprises! An agenda helps you prepare for meetings and helps others know what to have ready. Everyone is more productive when everyone is on the same page.


About the Author

Lindsay Bosch

Lindsay Bosch is an arts and nonprofit manager who has worked in cultural institutions for over decade including the American Library Association, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Film Festival. Lindsay is interested in the self-driven (and often self taught) trajectory of women’s careers in nonprofits and writes about issues related to leadership, branding and work culture. Lindsay holds a Bachelors degree in Film and Media from Northwestern Univ. and a Masters in Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is the coauthor of the art history textbook Icons of Beauty: Art, Culture and the Image of Women.