photo credit: Nick Youngson

The other day I attended a meeting where the agenda was handed out as we arrived. No one’s fault really, both the chair and the secretary had been away on vacation and they were the only two who could have properly prepared the agenda. Fortunately there was no problem. This was one of our group’s regular meetings and there were no major or controversial matters to deal with.

But this is not always the case. The question then is – when is the appropriate time to send out an agenda. As far as I can see, the answer is – it depends.

It depends on many things including the size of the group, the personalities in the group, the importance of the particular meeting, the importance of the topics to be discussed, any accompanying documents, how the agenda is to be distributed, the other obligations of the group members, etc.

I am never if favour of the agenda being handed out at the beginning of the meeting. Nor am I in favour of agenda items being added at the beginning of the meeting as so often happens. It might be ok for a minor inconsequential topic but generally not a good practice.

In both of the above scenarios, group members may be blindsided. They may come to the meeting unprepared to discuss a certain topic or they may have put the meeting higher in their priority list when deciding whether or not they could attend by moving other important obligations in their schedules.
As explained above, agenda planning will vary from group to group. Here are my thoughts on agenda planning for two entirely different groups:

Group 1

A small local group, meetings are held at predetermined times, the chair is responsible for the agenda and the agenda is distributed by email.

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Group 2

A larger group, more geographically dispersed and full of otherwise very busy people, has a chair and a secretary and discusses matters which require some preparation on the part of the participants.  

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If the agenda must be circulated by regular mail, I would suggest that the above timetable be advance at least 5 days.

The above examples are guidelines only.  There are no set rules unless your group has imposed some.  

For any group though, I believe the key elements in agenda preparation are:

  • Notify members of the date and time well enough in advance so they may incorporate the time into their schedule.
  • Canvas the group for additional agenda items.
  • Circulate the final agenda with enough time for members to come to the meeting properly prepared.

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