5 Ways to Design a Better Meeting Agenda for Faster and More Efficient Board Meetings

By Anthony Ing
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We've all been in chaotic board meetings that have dragged into the depths of the night. Team members arrived unprepared, conversations veered way off track, and important topics were crowded out by less important ones.

These problems can stem from poor agenda design and preparation. That's why every property manager should prepare a great agenda for every board meeting.

A great agenda will help to prioritize what is most important to discuss, level set on what is needed from the board for each discussion item and manage the flow during a board meeting. Because as we all know, when those in a meeting are left to explore whichever topics they choose… look out!

Here are five top tips for designing an effective agenda for your next meeting.

Call for agenda items before the meeting

This will help to anticipate what board members have on their mind. While a property manager will have a sense of what they think is important, there may be matters that fall into their blind spot that could sprout up during a meeting. This will provide a method to surface those matters ahead of the meeting, so that everyone can be prepared to address them during the meeting.

Calling for agenda items also acts as a forcing function to identify what items are most important to discuss. When members are able to see all of the potential agenda items on the table, they're able to prioritize what is most important. It is important to filter out unnecessary topics to save energy for those that are more important. However, if you recommend to not include an item, be sure to explain your reasoning to the team member who suggested it. Perhaps the matter is more individual and does not require the time of the entire team? Perhaps the matter can be easily discussed over email?

Give each agenda item 1 of 3 labels: share information, seek input for a decision, or make a decision

Help teammates know their role during agenda items by letting them know if they should listen, give their input, or be part of the decision-making process. If you're hoping to share updates, it's helpful if everyone knows that so that you can keep the flow of the meeting orderly and leave a brief period for questions after that agenda item. Alternatively, sometimes it's helpful to let the board know that you're merely seeking their input and perspective to a matter, such that you can continue to delineate your role as a decision maker for more operational issues. If a decision is required by the team, it will be helpful for the board to be aware of potential options and to be prepared to make a call.

Estimate a realistic time duration for each topic

Property managers need to realistically calculate how much time the team will need for providing background, conducting a discussion, considering potential solutions, and agreeing on a decision or next steps. Typically, managers underestimate the amount of time needed for an agenda item. If there are five people in your meeting and you have allocated ten minutes to a discussion on a major renovation, you have probably underestimated the time. By doing some basic math, you would realize that each member of the team would only be allotted an average of less than two minutes for discussion and Q&A after the topic has been introduced.

Estimating the time for each topic also enables team members to adjust their discussion to fit within the allotted timeframe. It also allows the manager to provide prompts as the estimated time nears elapsing or has elapsed (e.g. "we're approaching the 2-minute warning on this topic"; or "does the board believe we can conclude this topic by 8:10 PM or we may risk either extending the meeting later or cutting some later items short"). Keep in mind that the purpose of listing the time is not to stop discussion when the time has elapsed, which would contribute to poor decision making and frustration. The purpose is to ensure you don’t go overcapacity and to train the team to use time effectively and efficiently.

Specify how members should prepare for the meeting

Email the agenda with sufficient time ahead of the meeting, so the team can read background materials and prepare preliminary thoughts for each agenda item. If there are any action items for any team members ahead of the meeting, make sure to explicitly state those action items clearly in the body of the email.

Start the meeting seeking any additions/subtractions from the agenda

Even if your team has mutually agreed on the agenda ahead of the meeting, take a minute to see if anything needs to be changed. Team members may want to make late additions to the agenda, which is important to know ahead of the meeting. Since you have estimated the amount of time for each agenda item, you can share how any additions will affect the overall length of the meeting. You'll also be able to consider if any trade-offs with other agenda items need to be made to keep the meeting on track. Again, having a jointly developed agenda will help to keep the meeting effective and avoid digressing into lower priority or unnecessary topics.