-by Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Ed.D.
I used to say that I don’t go to meetings without an agenda. However, I realized that this is not always true. Sometimes, when I’m expected at a meeting that has no agenda, I bring my own.
One key leadership maxim ought to be “Never waste anyone’s time.” Leaders must communicate why the meeting is more important than whatever else staff could be doing. If I’m not sure why I’m expected at the agenda-less meeting, I decline if I can. But, sometimes, I can’t. When I know I have to be on a call or in a conference room, but I don’t know why I have to be there, I’ll come with my own agenda.
Having a plan for a purpose-less or ‘purpose-vague’ meeting is an excellent mental health and productivity tool. That said, I am not suggesting that anyone take over someone else’s meeting—that is never appropriate and crosses professional boundaries. Instead, we can use strategies to help us step into our positive power when and where we can.
Before the agenda-less meeting
As soon as you realize you can’t avoid an agenda-less meeting, take a look at who has been invited. Ask yourself, “If I called a meeting with this group of people, what would I hope to gain?” Write out a list of questions to ask, pick your top two, and ask the facilitator if those topics could be put on the agenda. Typically, the answer is yes. When the answer is no, you’ll usually discover what the actual purpose of the meeting is going to be. Either way, you’ve made the meeting a much better use of your time.
During the agenda-less meeting
If you don’t discover the meeting’s purpose within the first two minutes, it’s likely that the facilitator has not framed the problem, task, or issue with enough clarity to actually work on anything. One powerful question for this situation might be “If everything happens perfectly at today’s meeting, what would we have accomplished?” (Side note from personal experience, tone of voice matters…curiosity is more effective than annoyance.) Another productive choice might be to listen to other participants, searching for opportunities to collaborate later. Either way, deciding for yourself what you want to get out of your time helps shape what you can offer the group.
After the agenda-less meeting
I’ve been to too many meetings where I left unsure of what we accomplished. However, I’ve never left a meeting where I didn’t discover at least one opportunity for collaboration. After I exit the zoom call and before I leave a conference room, I draft and send follow-up emails, eliminating work for later. And honestly, I do this for both agenda-ed and agenda-less meetings.
“Bring your own agenda” is a powerful strategy for setting boundaries around your time, particularly if you’re not in a position to decline agenda-less meetings. The strategy works because you step into your own positive power to make your time together as useful for you (and for your team) as you possibly can.
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