HR leaders hold unique power. You can influence every part of your organization and its culture—and its processes, including meetings.

Running effective meetings is always important, but especially in our new video-call-dependent work environment. Your influence on organizational culture puts you in the position to create an inclusive, productive meeting culture, one conducive to helping employees communicate, collaborate, and connect.

Allow us to introduce the meeting agenda: a tool for reducing meeting creep and Zoom fatigue, ensuring that all voices in the meeting are heard, and keeping meetings on track. While rapid growth is a wonderful thing for business, it poses difficulties for many aspects of our culture, including meetings; creating a deliberate, organization-wide meeting practice will help you scale your processes easily and clearly.

Let’s learn how to build successful meeting agendas, understand their cultural benefits, and check out a template.

The building blocks of meeting agendas

Meeting agendas are constructed to give meeting organizers and attendees the opportunity to take control of the meeting’s direction before the meeting begins. We’ve all been in meetings that go on for far too long, and whose only action item at the end is to schedule a follow-up meeting. We’ve all been talked over and invited to meetings we probably didn’t need to be part of. Meeting agendas fix that.

To be effective, meeting agendas need to be sent far enough in advance of the meeting that they can be read and edited by participants. A great agenda will include:

  • The meeting’s purpose. Why do we need to have this meeting, why now, and, if it’s on a recurring cadence, what’s the purpose of multiple meetings? The goal of this section is two-fold: to set a clear, actionable agenda, and to make sure that this has to be a meeting, and its purpose wouldn’t be more efficiently accomplished over Slack or email. An example of a strong purpose statement is: In our weekly 1:1, you’ll present your work from the past week, plans for the coming week, and progression towards your monthly and quarterly goals. I’ll share any updates from management and other teammates, along with feedback on your work and ideas for the future. 
  • Meeting attendees. Who is invited and why? What’s their role? Putting together this list will make clear to you and your attendees what each participant’s role is supposed to be and what they need to prepare in order to contribute. Participants can be categorized as organizers, presenters, and observers; for organizers and presenters, the agenda should clarify what they’re expected to bring. For example, to continue with the weekly 1:1 example: You’ll be expected to fill in the table below with your progress towards your KPIs, in addition to a written summary of last week’s activities and Asana tasks laid out for the next two weeks.
  • Meeting program. What are we going to discuss at the meeting and how long will it take? This program, planned down to the minute, will help you make sure the meetings stay within their allotted timeframe and every presenter knows how much time they have to present.
  • Action items. What comes after the meeting? Determining this while setting the meeting agenda will help make sure that the meeting doesn’t need to be followed by another meeting, but will rather be goal-oriented so participants can get straight to work afterward.
  • What to think about before the meeting. This is most effective for larger meetings with more observers than presenters. Especially for meetings with broad topics—for example, designing more inclusive hiring pipelines—asking participants to do some research before the meeting and come prepared with thoughts will make the question-and-answer bit of the meeting more effective.
  • Thoughts and questions before the meeting. In this space, invite meeting participants to share what they would like to see addressed in the meeting. For example, in a meeting about creating inclusive hiring pipelines, observers may request that presenters bring examples from other organizations or the current status of pipelines.

Taking the time to carefully consider the reason for your meeting before setting it will keep meetings to a minimum while ensuring they’re reaching their maximum potential.

The cultural benefits of meeting agendas

Meeting creep. Zoom fatigue. Being talked over endlessly.

Meetings can be great sources of creativity, but they can also lead to frustration, exhaustion, and burnout. Calendars filled with meetings can keep employees from doing their real jobs, zapping their creativity before they have the chance to sit down and get to work.

Working with meeting agendas not only keeps meetings focused and productive, but it also makes sure that everyone knows their role in the meeting. We’ve all unfortunately been part of meetings where the loudest people get the most airtime, even when their contributions aren’t the most important. 

Distributed teams and companies employing the hybrid model will benefit from the equity created by meeting agendas. While employees sitting in the same room may be tempted to focus on each other, agendas make sure every attendee gets their allotted time and attention—whether they’re attending by screen, hologram, or in-person.

For introverted employees and those from underrepresented minority groups, traditional meeting culture can be the most toxic. According to a post on Atlassian’s Worklife blog about inclusive meetings, our unconscious biases can lead us to steamroll the folks we should be dedicating our time to. “Unconscious biases against introverts, remote workers, and women,” author Hilary Dubin writes, “mean they struggle to be heard in meetings…Based on what we know about the benefits of diversity, the impact of excluding certain groups is that the entire team misses out on valuable ideas and insights that lead to new opportunities.”

The benefits of diversity in the workplace are researched and proven but without an inclusive meeting culture, we’re missing out on many of those rewards. Dubin goes on to write, “If we don’t counteract the sub-conscious biases we all (yes, all) carry, and create an environment where everyone can contribute, we don’t actually benefit from that diversity…Fostering a culture of inclusive meetings is emerging as a competitive advantage. Building that culture is a matter of understanding the biases that sabotage our effectiveness as teams, then adjusting your approach to meeting facilitation.”

Templates for meeting agendas

Every organization and team will need to customize their meeting agendas for their needs. Our list is by no means exhaustive or definitive! To help you create a thorough meeting agenda for your organization, here are a few great resources:

Use meeting agendas to create organizational change

As an HR leader, you have the power to create large-scale culture change. By sharing best practices for meetings with your people managers and internal leadership, you’ll help create a culture of efficiency, responsibility, and productivity.

Shayna Hodkin

From Shayna Hodkin

Shayna lives in south Tel Aviv with two dogs and a lot of plants. She writes poems and reads tarot.