Decision-Based Agendas

Has this happened to you?

You’re participating in a group meeting. You come upon an important topic on the very full meeting agenda labeled “Widget Sales Program.” The meeting leader initiates the conversation with an somewhat impressive introduction and overview. He or she then asks for input.

As the input comes from all directions from all the participants–the course of the meeting shifts left–then right, then backwards, then totally off topic–then back to the middle.

Many excellent ideas come out. Some are even written down on the flip chart. After 35 minutes of discussion, sharing of ideas, and even bold proposals for “change,” the meeting organizer realizes she’d only allowed 30 minutes for the discussion and time is running out, and so she’s going to have to move on.

She sums up what she thinks she heard and then moves on to the next topic.

So what was wrong with this? Perhaps nothing–if the group and leader arrived at an important decision or action point based on the discussion.

But more often than not–a meeting agenda prompts a lot of great discussion where many great ideas are shared–but no “goal” was set for the agenda item in the first place. It felt good to the meeting organizer and participants to have the agenda item on the list–but they leave the topic not really feeling as if they did something substantial about it.

How do we make this process better? The answer is through decision-based agendas. The trouble can be–is that these don’t come naturally to us. A decision-based agenda item looks odd on the page, and even if we don’t phrase it properly, the meeting leader must exhibit the discipline to remember to crystallize the goal for the topic in everyone’s mind so that a decision is reached.

One way to enable this process–is to just rewrite the agenda topic. Instead of “Widget Sales Program,” the meeting leader might have listed it as “Widget Sales Program: What Are The #1 and #2 Enhancements Needed to Achieve Our Goals?”

This tells everyone at the outset that their mission for the discussion–is to identify just two components to improve the Widget Sales Program. It’s easy for the meeting leader to come back around in the middle of the discussion and remind the group of the goal. And more importantly, it sets the right tone at the very beginning for the participants, so that they know what is expected during this section.

Other agenda topic examples:

Before: “Customer Service”
After: “Customer Service: Determine Priority and Responsibility List Based on Last Month’s Survey”

Before: “Warranty”
After: “Establish New Warranty Labor Provision: 1 Year or 2 Years”

Before: “Widget Inventory”
After: “Decide What Stock Items Can Be Reduced to Achieve 10% Inventory Reduction”

Obviously, not every topic on an agenda can be expressed as a question. Often, there are important updates and sharing of information that just need to be expressed as such–without any question attached.

But using a Decision-Based Agenda strategy will help ensure more of our meeting topics produce something useful to take away from the discussion, rather than that empty feeling when we’re 30 minutes behind schedule and we just have to “move on because we’re out of time.”

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