Didn’t Cover the Agenda

By Pamela A. Scott

Last week’s call came from Elliott, a VP in a medium-sized firm. He was frustrated with Conner, his CEO.

“What do we do with this guy?” Elliott groused. “We just spent two hours in a management meeting and only covered half the things on the agenda. We never even touched on a critical staff issue.”

“Why does Conner even put together an agenda? I see an agenda and develop expectations about what we will get done in the meeting. And every time I’m disgusted by our lack of progress.”

I’ve heard this before from other clients. The CEO puts together a meeting agenda and doesn’t stick to it. Too much time is spent on the first one or two issues, so the team doesn’t have time to get to all the issues.

Or the CEO lets someone go off on a tangent that has nothing to do with what the team is trying to accomplish. Or the CEO, as moderator, lets someone rehash issues and background covered in the last three meetings.

“How do we turn this meeting into a productive use of our time?” Elliott asked with a sigh.

Here is what I suspect is going on.

CEOs tend to be big-picture people. Big-picture folks put together agendas to satisfy other people; they don’t really need agendas because they often don’t follow them.

Big-picture folks don’t always have the best sense of time. So they may think they can cover 8 issues in a two-hour meeting, but, in reality, they can’t.

If you find yourself in Elliott’s spot, here are a few things you can do.

You can consult with the CEO then you create the agenda with time limits on discussion for each point. Two hours is 120 minutes—you can’t squeeze any more from that two hours.

Volunteer to be the time-keeper for the meeting. You watch the clock and keep the team informed of where you are on the agenda and how much time you have left.

Get someone to man the metaphorical “parking lot.” A “parking lot” is a place to record thoughts you don’t want to lose, but that don’t fit into the discussion at the time they are raised. When the agenda has been covered, the “parking lot” manager reviews those topics. The team can decide to put them off until next time or to continue the meeting in order to cover one or more parking lot issues.

Someone needs to gently let Conner know that others get frustrated when the agenda doesn’t get covered.

And one last suggestion from a reader: Once you know how to have an effective two-hour meeting, figure out how to cut it down to one hour.

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