At the core of every successful offsite meeting is a well-designed agenda. Not only does it serve as a guide, an outline, and a checklist of the meeting’s discussion points. It also ensures participants come prepared and that the meeting ends on time. Offsite meetings take time, effort, and money to organize. A meeting agenda makes sure you’re using everyone’s time well. There’s no foolproof formula for developing an effective offsite meeting agenda. But sound judgment is necessary to identify which topics to cover and how much time to allot for each item.
The agenda should be concise, but clear enough to provide a window into the meeting’s purpose. Include what you hope to get done. If you have no clear goal, there’s no point in convening a meeting. Your offsite meeting’s success depends on having a polished agenda. Consider the following tips when developing your outline.
Seek input from team members.
A meeting is a team event, offsite or otherwise; so you might as well involve the team in its planning. Send out an email with details on the purpose, date, and time of the offsite meeting. Ask for the team’s input on the items to include in the agenda. And ask for the reasons behind their recommendations. Look for suggestions from as many people as possible, across skill sets and job functions. Doing so allows you to understand what team members expect from an offsite meeting. Some people may not be comfortable responding to a call for suggestions via email. Have other options available for them. Putting up a suggestion box, for example, encourages them to participate (anonymously or not).
Summarize and select topics affecting the whole team. Align them with the goals of that particular meeting.
If a suggested topic concerns only one person, send that person an email. If it’s an issue that email cannot resolve, schedule a one-on-one. No point in keeping an entire team away from productive work to keep one person informed. Be sure, though, to explain why the suggestion didn’t make it to the final list. If a topic request doesn’t align with the meeting’s objectives, ask to cover it at another meeting.
Allocate the right amount of time per topic.
Let the content dictate the discussion length for each topic. Be realistic when setting time limits. For example, introductions should take no more than two minutes. A recap of a previous meeting should take no more than five minutes. Forget the 30-minute time block. If an agenda item can be discussed and resolved in half the time, do so and do not drag out the conversation.
Also, watch out for attendees who might hijack the discussion. The facilitator should, at all times, enforce control over the meeting’s proceedings. When the meeting starts veering off track, immediately steer it back on course. Depending on the situation, you might end the discussion and summarize the action items identified. Or you might move on to another topic entirely. That said, do not cram an unrealistic number of items in your agenda and risk going overtime. It’s always better to end earlier than planned than to let the meeting drag on.
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Designate a leader for each topic.
It does not necessarily have to be a guest speaker or the facilitator herself. Appoint a team member to facilitate the flow of a topic. Ask him or her to provide background and context before the formal discussion begins. Identifying a point person next to an agenda item encourages participation.
Design a process for addressing each item.
This is the “how” part of your offsite meeting agenda. You’ll want to consider the steps the team should take to either make a decision or wrap up a discussion. Roger Schwarz, a leadership team consultant, says this is something leaders rarely do.
Schwarz suggests that every item on the agenda should include a suggested discussion flow. For example: 10 minutes for gathering information, 10 minutes to identify and agree on assumptions, 10 minutes to determine the criteria to meet when crafting solutions, and 15 minutes for the actual crafting of relevant solutions.
Review and change the agenda as needed.
Be flexible and ready for change. A change in your business could mean you need to think quickly. If you do need to change the agenda, send updated copies out to all participants for review. Make sure you do so at least a couple of days before the offsite meeting.
Designing an offsite meeting agenda requires serious thought. Taking a collaborative approach guarantees that everyone’s voice is heard. Use the meeting as an opportunity to recognize and address the interests of your team. When the discussion strays from your agenda, take notes for future discussions. And get the meeting back on track.
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