Meeting ‘best practice’ and time management courses tell you that agendas are a really important tool to help meetings go well. I’m sure this is not the first time that you have heard that agendas save effort and help structure the valuable time you have with project stakeholders. So why don’t people use agendas? Here are seven reasons why project managers fail to use agendas.

“It takes too long.”

If you feel that producing an agenda takes too long, try to find the time to put together a standing agenda. A standing agenda is an agenda that you use at every meeting. When you are chairing project team meetings on a weekly basis, chances are that you want to discuss the same topics week after week. Don’t produce a specific agenda each week, just create one standing agenda that you use time after time.

Book time in your diary to produce the agenda if you need a specific one. Make an actual appointment with yourself so that you keep the time free to type up the agenda and circulate it to the meeting participants. Remember, more time spent on planning upfront means less time wasted in the meeting itself!

“We never stick to the topics anyway, so why bother?”

What is the problem with your agendas that means you never stick to them? What other topics are you discussing instead? Maybe these should be the ones on your agenda.

Consider how you are going to keep control of the meeting and ensure that people stay on-topic.

“People don’t prepare for their agenda items.”

There will always be people who turn up to meetings unprepared, but giving them an agenda will at least make them aware of the topics up for discussion, so they have the chance to prepare if required.

Name and shame the meeting attendees who do not come prepared. If they are on the agenda as the owner of a discussion topic and have not prepared for this, then make that point clear to them and ask them to prepare to discuss their topic at the next meeting.

Always be prepared for your meeting

Then carry that agenda item forward. You might want to check with them before the next meeting that they have completed their preparations, so that their lack of preparation stops holding the rest of the team up.

“We always start late so it is not worth it.”

Circulating an agenda in advance can help people feel that the meeting is a formal occasion and encourage them to turn up on time. Regardless, start the meeting on time, always. No excuses. If you need to catch up someone who arrives late, do so briefly and then if necessary fill them in with the details of what they missed later. It is disrespectful of other people’s time to go over the same material again for the sake of one latecomer.

“I don’t know what we will be talking about.”

If you can’t prepare an agenda because you do not know what topics the meeting will cover, why are you having a meeting at all? Don’t expect people to turn up and contribute when you have not been bothered to explain the purpose of the meeting and the expected outcome.

“It’s overkill for my small meeting.”

You do not need to produce a formal agenda, typed up and printed out, for every meeting. A few bullet points in an email is still an agenda. You can include the headline topics to be discussed in the calendar invite.

Agendas provide a focus and even the smallest meetings need an objective.

“People don’t bring the agendas anyway.”

Meeting attendees do not have to bring their agendas to the meeting. You could write up the meeting agenda on a flip chart and stick it to the wall. You could display it on a PowerPoint slide at the beginning of the meeting. You can print out copies and put them on the table (but be careful of using too many trees). There are plenty of ways to overcome the fact that people don’t bring their personal copy of the agenda with them.

If you are having difficulty preparing an agenda for your meeting, brainstorm the topics that you want to discuss with your team using Seavus Dropmind or a similar tool. Then break down the topics into the focus of specific meetings. You might uncover topics that would span different audiences, so don’t feel you have to cover everything at the same session. Split the topics into different meetings and plan who should attend each one.