Meeting with purpose
Meetings should be purposeful and all attending must be clear about the purposes. To assist with this an agenda is essential. This may sound a bit formal for some meetings but even if it is constructed on arrival due to the meeting’s spontaneity it helps focus the minds of those attending on what it is intended to accomplish.
In a Newfrontiers context we would see relationship as a high priority. This can lead to an informality which, although enjoyable, may lead to an inefficient use of time. Agendas help to give direction to the meeting.
Constructing an agenda
An agenda is a list of items to be covered during the meeting. If provided only as a list of topics it gives only basic information. However, it can be used to work much more productively. How? By attaching to each item 3 additional pieces of information:
1. Who is expected to introduce the topic?
2. Why is it on the agenda i.e. the intended outcome?
3. How long is being planned to discuss the item?
Knowing who is to speak on the topic ensures that someone comes to the meeting already prepared to speak. This may include a written paper to distribute with the key points to be considered or, at least, a readiness to introduce the topic and help steer the discussion to a conclusion.
There can be various reasons for an item to be included on an agenda such as:
• For information or review
• For accountability
• For a decision and possible action
Recently I chaired a meeting of our church trustees. The evening began with an excellent presentation about one of the social justice ministries. This was a way of keeping the trustees informed about this important area of church life. So this item was for information. No decision was anticipated.
Next we reviewed the actions from the previous meeting (more is said about handling actions below). This was for accountability.
Finally we had a detailed discussion about finance. Typically such a discussion begins with an update of management accounts. Then, in this case, we considered some necessary budget revisions. It ended with a discussion with the elders about communication to the heads of departments (children’s work etc) and church members, including when this would happen and who would do it. This item was for decision and action.
Planning a meeting is the chairman’s responsibility; meeting management will be discussed later. It is helpful for the chairman to have considered the length of time needed for each item. It should certainly be on his personal agenda but it may be helpful to add this to everyone’s agenda. Not only does it help focus people’s discussion but it also ensures that the later items don’t get squeezed into the last few minutes of the meeting but are given appropriate attention.
Ordering the agenda
Review of minutes and actions tend to be the first 2 items as they provide the continuity between meetings. Thereafter the items should probably be handled in priority order in case an item has to be postponed due to lack of time. But it may be helpful to consider putting a ‘light-weight’ item after something that has required intense discussion as a way of allowing people to relax a little.
The first item on the agenda is often to approve the minutes of the previous meeting. This is particularly important if they represent a legal document. Status of minutes will be discussed later. This is then followed by ‘actions’.
At the end of a meeting, as we shall see, it is important to summarise the actions that have been agreed and to ensure that appropriate people know they are expected to carry them out. So, at the beginning of the agenda there must be the opportunity for accountability that this has happened.
The time taken to review actions can be reduced if the action list is pre-circulated and people are asked to respond with a note about what they have done, including any outcome. The result is that the only actions that need to be considered in the meeting are those that have not been completed or which require further attention.
The way to handle the action list within the minutes will be considered later.