We have all been in meetings that have over-run, gone off-topic or seemed to achieve nothing at the end of a lot of discussion. Ineffective committees discourage attendance and those who do come often feel like their time has been wasted. How can we avoid this? One of the most important elements of a productive meeting is creating an effective agenda – done well, it will provide a clear road map through the topics for discussion and help the group to do its work in the time available to it.
- The agenda should start with the basic practical elements: what group is meeting, where, when and for how long.
- It should be circulated to those asked to attend well in advance of the meeting: a week ahead if this is possible, to given people opportunity to arrange their attendance and prepare any items of business that they may need to discuss.
- It should inform group members of the items that are to be covered in the meeting. It is often helpful to group items of business into items for information and items requiring discussion or decisions so that members can prepare accordingly.
- It should identify any papers that are issued (or will be issued at the meeting) in support of the agenda. Each paper should have a unique identifying number, which is given on the paper and on the agenda next to the relevant item of business so that members know which paper is covered by which agenda item. It is preferable to circulate papers with the agenda so that they can be read in advance of the meeting.
- Try to arrange your agenda so the most important items appear first. This way, key decisions will have been taken if the committee for any reason cannot finish all items of business.
- Items of business should be described in a short, clear and specific manner that lets members know exactly what will be covered at that point in the meeting (such as “confirmation of revised terms of reference”). Avoid vague items such as “student problems”.
- The agenda should end with the date of the next meeting or an item to agree the next date.
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