The Art of Creating an Agenda
When teachers create lesson plans, they naturally consider the rhythm of the day, the students’ capacities and their goals for the students’ growth and development. A good teacher is conscious of every little detail and aspect of the lesson. The consciousness put into planning helps the students relax, know what to expect and feel well cared for. Both students and teachers delight in the surprises that will inevitably arise. Planning a meeting requires much of the same consciousness and consideration. Here is a list of key considerations all related to the essential practice of thinking ahead.
Consider who is participating.
Picture who is going to be at the meeting, what their gifts and needs are. A conscious meeting planner makes extra copies of the agenda for those who may not have printed out their own copies.
Consider how the group works.
Most groups in organizations, like boards and committees, meet on a regular basis. Understanding the patterns of a group can be helpful in planning.
Be clear about what is being asked of the participants.
It is best when participants know why an item is on the agenda (is it a discussion, brainstorming, gathering of information, time for decision, etc.) and what their role is (provide reflections, bring ideas, evaluate proposals, make decisions, etc.)
Make room for creativity.
Make sure that the agenda is not packed too tightly, that items being discussed have ample time, and that time for possible contingencies are built in.
Imagine the flow.
In the same way that we learn how to craft a lesson plan for students and imagine how they will move through it, imagining how the meeting will flow helps in crafting an agenda. The healthiest kind of flow is organic. Like a wild stream, a meeting will naturally have a current, eddies, and meanders that give it life. A channeled river or a too tightly structured meeting tends to lose its liveliness.
Leave time for review.
One of the amazing aspects of being human is the ability to look back on an event to reflect on it and to learn something in the process. I encourage both individuals and the group to take up a practice of asking three essential questions at the end of every meeting: what was accomplished; what was learned; what relationships grew stronger. Asking these allows for insights that can help in planning the next meeting.
Avoid typical pitfalls
- Giving items too little time
- Squeezing too many items in one meeting
- Not allowing for breathing space or breaks
- Getting the agenda out too late for others to prepare
- Neglecting to notify those who are leading items
- Not providing appropriate background information
- Not indicating on agenda what the goals of individual agenda items are
- Not varying the style of discussion (go around, popcorn, small group etc.)
In the end, forming an agenda is an exercise in conscious imagination. The above suggestions are intended to help develop good habits in preparing an agenda, but the process is ultimately an artistic one. Once the agenda is created and the meeting prepared, there is another aspect of meeting life that is equally important, the facilitation of the agenda. We will take up the art of meeting facilitation in a future newsletter.