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September/October 2009

On Task, On Time

It’s All About the Agenda

The agenda is key to an effective meeting. This crucial document, when well prepared and followed, represents where your group is going, where it has been and what progress it has made along the way.

Here’s a quick refresher on how an agenda can prepare the chair and attendees to be efficient during the meeting, define and organize objectives for the gathering, and structure the order of business — in short, make the meeting as effective as possible.

Suppose that it’s several weeks ahead of your next meeting. Now is a good time to look at your group’s last agenda, review the related minutes and documentation, and follow up with your members about assignments, projects or negative votes.

Here’s a sample preparation list:

  • Review ballot results;
  • Scan correspondence, status reports and other related information;
  • Update the roster;
  • Contact negative voters about their issues or concerns if you have not done so already;
  • Check in with everyone who had a job to do;
  • Ensure that a flip chart or any needed audiovisual equipment will be available at the meeting; and
  • Consult with the staff manager regarding any questions or concerns.

Armed with notes and materials gathered from tackling the list above, you can structure the next meeting agenda and put it on paper. Include the meeting location, date and time (recheck this information for accuracy). If a last-minute change is unavoidable, it can be posted at a committee or committee week meeting, or sent out via e-mail if time permits.

Clearly identify each topic in the agenda, including who will report on the item and the amount of time allotted for discussion. Attach background information — copies of negative votes or summaries of negatives (the goal is to be as clear as possible), technical information, draft standards, status and membership reports, and so on.

Where possible in the agenda, identify a goal for an item with such action plans as “determine the resolution of a negative” or “determine if additional research is needed.”

Once you complete the agenda and gather the related documents, send it out. With time still to go before the actual meeting, adjustments can be made if necessary.

Suppose now that your meeting time has arrived. The agenda becomes a tool to move efficiently through the work at hand. Begin at the start time. Include a review of the agenda and its objectives, and ask for any agenda changes, plus approval, before getting into the meat of the meeting.

Should the secretary not be able to attend, be sure to delegate note taking and keep your focus on leading the discussion, using Robert’s Rules of Order where appropriate. Meeting leaders need to remain neutral, maintain order and give everyone the opportunity to comment without derailing the meeting.

Side conversations can crop up, and they can potentially derail a meeting. However, the topic can be considered at another point in the meeting, and a “parking lot” note on a flip chart reminds the group about issues or concerns that can be discussed under other or new business.

As you work through the agenda items, summarize them. Clarify if need be. Ask questions. Make assignments. Multi-task as best you can — focus on individuals’ diverse viewpoints and on progressing through the agenda. At the end, state overall conclusions and review assignments to be sure all agree.

After the meeting, the agenda continues to be a useful tool as you complete the form to request a specific time period for your next meeting as well as note any special equipment needed.

In addition, there are minutes to prepare, finalize and distribute. There are assignments to be completed. There are tasks to track. And once again, the agenda provides a touchstone in the standards development process.

For more about holding effective meetings and other aspects of being a more effective ASTM International member, consider registering for one or more of the online workshops that will be part of the Virtual Officers’ Training Week 2009, or participate in other training sessions for ASTM members. Please click here for more information.

And, look for a new electronic tool in 2010 for subcommittee chairs that will compile a meeting agenda template based on subcommittee activity.