Preparing an Agenda for Effective Company Meetings

An agenda is a list of meeting activities in the order in which they are to be taken up, beginning with the call to order and ending with adjournment.

Agenda should include:

Purpose of the meeting; and
Order in which items are to be discussed, so that the meeting achieves its purpose. This will later shape the minutes of the meeting. The items of agenda should be arranged in order of importance but routine items, like reading the minutes of previous meeting, apologies etc. are placed as the first item of the agenda.

The agenda may include more or less detail, and contain timings for each item.

The Secretary prepares the agenda in consultation with the Chairman or Managing Director of the company. Agenda serves several functions, before, during and after a meeting.

These functions include:

Helps potential attendees decide whether they need to attend. By setting out what will be discussed, and for how long, it shows potential attendees whether they are crucial to the discussion and whether it is crucial to them. They can then make an informed decision about whether they attend or make their contribution in writing or via another attendee.
Helps invitees to prepare for the meeting. Along with any papers, it allows them to understand what will be discussed and to think about the issues in advance. They can also prepare any facts or figures so that they have the necessary information to hand to make an effective contribution.
Provides a structure for the meeting. It means that anyone diverting from the topic can be brought back to the matter in hand quickly and easily.
Allows the chair to control the meeting. A timed agenda is especially helpful for this, since the chair can move onto the next item when the time is up, asking attendees to continue the discussion elsewhere if necessary.
Gives a way in which the meeting’s success can be judged. Because the agenda includes the purpose, attendees can see whether the meeting has achieved its aim or not. This makes it clear whether future meetings are necessary on the same subject.

Preparing an Agenda

There following areas should be covered in an agenda:

1. Logistics:

This includes date, time and place of meeting, its title, and a list of invited attendees.

2. Objective:

The purpose of the meeting, and any background information such as whether this is the first in a series of meetings.

3. Housekeeping:

This should include welcome and introductions and any apologies for absence. It should also cover approval of previous minutes, and any matters arising from them that are not dealt with elsewhere in the agenda.

In a formal meeting, housekeeping will also cover any amendments that are necessary to the last set of minutes, which should be formally documented in the minutes of this meeting.

4. Items:

Each item should have a number, a title, and a presenter/lead. It should also have a suggested time limit on the discussion.

Timing can be hard to ascertain without previous experience of the meeting. The secretary may need to ask the presenter/lead how long they think a particular item will take, and then discuss it with the chair. The final allocation should be based on the item’s importance to the objective of the meeting, and its level of controversy. A very controversial item that is incidental to the objective of the meeting should be postponed for discussion elsewhere.

5. Any Other Business:

Many agendas end with an item on ‘Any Other Business’ or ‘AOB’. This can be an opportunity for attendees to flag up something for inclusion in a future agenda. Attendees can use AOB to hijack a meeting for their own purposes and change the whole feeling of the meeting. A well-run meeting, with a well-prepared agenda, should mean that nobody wishes to raise any other business.

It is recommended that either:

Do not include AOB as an agenda item at all; or
If you do include AOB on the agenda, you agree that it will only be as a way of raising issues for discussion at a future meeting, or elsewhere.

Offer attendees the opportunity to suggest items for inclusion on the agenda ahead of time. However, the chairperson in consultation with the secretary gives final decision about which items should be included.

6. Close:

This should include the chair’s summary of the meeting, the date and time of the next meeting, and any actions agreed and who is responsible.

Breaks in the Agenda

Some meetings, for example, formal board meetings, or away-days, may go on all day, or even over more than one day.

The agendas for such meetings will obviously need to include breaks, usually at least one break in the morning and one in the afternoon, as well as a lunch break.

However, even a shorter meeting may benefit from one or more scheduled breaks. These offer the opportunity for discussion between two or more participants outside the main meeting, and also allow a meeting to get back on track if one or more item has taken more time than expected.