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How we create effective meeting agendas at IWT

A great agenda allows everyone involved to come prepared and stay on track during the meeting. Here are 5 things every IWT meeting has in common.

Ramit Sethi

When you look at someone who’s a master at their craft, you’ll notice that they’ve always built routines for the ordinary parts of life, so they can focus on what they’re best at.

This is why President Obama wears the same suit every day and Gary Vaynerchuk calls his family in the car on the way to work every morning.

These “micro systems” take a tiny amount of time to create, but you reap the rewards forever.

I’ve been building these systems year after year — to earn more, find a dream job, improve social skills, become more focused — and it helps me save my mental energy for things that really matter.

This is even more important in my business.

I want to make sure my team and I are focused on the right things each day and not wasting time doing unproductive tasks.

Here’s just a few examples of “micro systems” in my company:

We also have a system for how we create meeting agendas.

The problem with most meeting agendas

We’ve experienced a meeting that’s unproductive at best and useless and worst.

The kind that sucks up hours of our day we could have been using for more productive things — like our actual jobs.

This is usually a symptom of a poorly crafted meeting agenda — or worse: no meeting agenda at all.

How we set meeting agendas

We’ve made it a point at IWT to make our team as productive as possible and that means holding meetings only when necessary and sticking to an agenda.

An agenda allows everyone involved to prepare ahead of time, stay on track during the meeting, and perform the appropriate follow up actions.

Here are 5 things every IWT meeting has in common:

  1. The scheduled meeting time is as short as possible. When you schedule a meeting for an hour, the time will get filled. If it’s simply a status meeting, we shorten the meeting time to 30, or even 15 minutes. We’ve found that team members will stay succinct and just as much gets accomplished.
  2. The meeting has a single objective. Too often, meetings cover too many topics. The result is that there are parts of the meeting that aren’t relevant to everyone attending (which means they shouldn’t be there). Instead, if we have more than one topic to discuss, we’ll schedule (short) back-to-back meetings. For example, Monday morning we hold our all-team meeting for 30 minutes and then immediately following, we hold a 15-minute managers meeting. This way, we push out the information that’s important to everyone, and discuss management items with the smaller group.
  3. Everyone gets the agenda document ahead of time. Being able to review the agenda before the meeting means everyone is prepared. If I need some metrics or a status report, time isn’t being wasted in the meeting gathering the information. The team can add relevant information right into the agenda doc so we can quickly cover most items. This also allows everyone to prepare any questions or sticking points that the team can work through together.
  4. A meeting is not the ideal forum for every discussion. Since we’re a 100% virtual company, we use a variety of communication tools on a daily basis. Certain types of problems are best discussed in a meeting, but many are better suited for a Slack channel, Trello board, or even a 1-on-1 conversation or an email. For example, if a status report reveals a technical flaw in one of our systems, troubleshooting details don’t usually need to be shared in the meeting, even though I’d like to see what’s going on later. When meetings get “into the weeds” or off-topic, it’s time to get back to the primary purpose of the meeting.
  5. Recognize your team. It’s important for me to acknowledge the contributions of my team at every meeting. Each Monday, I feature one of the team members plus recognize small-team and individual accomplishments. Team managers do the same. This makes everyone feel invested in the success of the project and company as a whole.

How to optimize communication after the meeting

We use a few systems for better communication, especially via email after a meeting.

First, for status updates, items that need review, or urgent communication, the whole team communicates this information in the subject line. This might look like this:

Screen Shot 2017 02 22 at 12.10.39 PM

We also use clear next steps in the final sentence such as:

  • Please approve by 2pm ET today.
  • Are you available for a meeting tomorrow morning to discuss?
  • Unless I hear back from you by EOD today, I’ll proceed as follows….

If the email is only to share information and there’s no action needed, we use the acronym “NRN” which means there is “no response needed” from the recipient. (These are my favorite emails to receive.)

A final key tool for effective communication is to have a vault of email scripts that you can use and tweak for any situation. I have scripts on everything from giving meeting agendas to finessing tricky situations to asking for time off.

I gathered some of them together in a free guide.

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  1. avatar
    Manuel Schulze

    I really hate unnecessary meetings. It’s so important to keep track and go back to work. I always love to improve my productivity. As a freelancer my productivity is equal to my hourly rate. Thanks for sharing, I will try to integrate some of your tips.

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