The age-old business strategy of setting an agenda and sticking to it has good intentions: you have certain points to cover, and to best utilize everyone’s time, you set an agenda to stay on topic.
The problem is, this idea doesn’t exactly apply when you’re solving complex business problems, and it can actually damage the outcome.
Things like growing a company, fixing production issues, or developing a new business strategy can be a multi-faceted conversation. The whole point of a meeting is to get the input of multiple stakeholders, which means you can’t reasonably set an agenda that will control what will be discussed.
Rather, your meetings will be more productive and valuable if creating the agenda is a group-led activity rather than a one-sided brainstorm.
Provide a Pre-Meeting Briefing
Individual brainstorming allows for creative thinking.
One effective business strategy is to develop a pre-meeting briefing that discloses the purpose of the meeting and each attendee’s expected role. This allows them to begin preparing for the meeting and potentially have some ideas or notes ready to share.
Let them know you’ll be collectively creating the meeting’s agenda, and that they should come prepared by having individually reflected on the topic. Ask them to write down their thoughts on the topic to share at the meeting.
Otherwise, you run the risk of groupthink taking over when everyone starts collaborating, and this can minimize the positive effects of the diversity in the meeting.
Allow the Group to Decide How to Spend Their Time
When the group convenes, use the first few minutes to introduce members of the group and present the reason for the meeting. Then, share the notes each person created from their individual exploration. You can sort through this information in a number of ways, such as combining like ideas or shortlisting ideas for further discussion.
After going through this initial discovery, everyone in the group can collectively determine the best way to proceed with the agenda, including how much time to allocate to each topic, which topics to prioritize, and how many topics will need to be covered.
Your Goal Is the Agenda
One of the most effective ways to look at the agenda creation process is to keep the desired outcome in mind. In essence, your goal is the agenda, which is broken down into subtopics or tasks during the meeting.
The best business strategy is to allow the desired outcome to set the tone and pace of the meeting, not the other way around.
Most people are used to coming into meetings, reviewing the agenda, and predetermining their level of participation. Making them part of the meeting development flips the script and encourages new ways of thinking and doing — both of which can be essential in producing the results for which you came.