Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda
by Rick Brenner
In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met — and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need a program.
Telecommuting, virtual teams, outsourcing, and globalization have all contributed to increased incidence of virtual meetings between people who never meet face to face, or at least, haven't met face to face yet. For these meetings, a simple agenda isn't enough, because people need to know more about each other to work effectively together. To make the meeting more productive, distribute a program — not just an agenda.
Handbill for the exhibition of Manet's "The Execution of Emperor Maximilian," (now in the Kunsthalle Mannheim) in New York in December 1879. Galerie Berès, Paris. At the time, the handbill (which we now are more likely to call a "leaflet") was a favored means of advertising. The publication now known as Playbill first appeared in 1884, invented in this form by Frank Vance Strauss, though handbills had been used to advertise plays since Shakespeare's time. Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Pattern your meeting program after the programs of sporting events, plays, the opera or ballet. Playbill
is an example. Since the program is replacing the agenda, it must, at a minimum, serve the function of the agenda. But you can also include background enrichment material of all kinds. Here are some ideas for your programs.
- Links to exhibits
- If the meeting includes discussions or reviews of exhibits — contracts, reports, diagrams, audios, videos, and so on — attendees have to review them beforehand. Include links to these items. Or for the convenience of attendees, combine all exhibits into a zip archive to make downloading easy.
- Links to MP3s or MPEGs of attendees talking
- In telephone conferences, being able to recognize each other's voices is a big advantage. But since recognizing the voice of someone you've never met is difficult, have everyone make recordings introducing themselves. Video is great, but audio helps too. Give everyone an opportunity to see and listen to each other before the meeting.
- Bios and contact information
- Bios of all attendees help them establish relationships before the meeting begins, especially if some haven't attended this particular meeting before. Let people write their own bios. Professional bios help everyone understand each other's area of expertise. But personal details help too, because they give everyone little insights about each other as people.
In telephone conferences,
being able to recognize
each other's voices
is a big advantage
- If a team or team member made an outstanding contribution recently, or received recognition for any reason, play it up. Most of us like to see our names in lights.
- Project successes, vision, and history
- Include a little summary of past successes and what the future holds. This helps keep people fixed on the goal. It's an opportunity not to be missed.
- Site imagery and videos
- Familiarity with the sites where people work helps people "place" each other in a context. It gives them a setting in which to imagine the other people attending the meeting, which is especially important for telephone meetings. If you're holding the meeting as an off-site, provide history and information about local attractions.
Your meeting program, like all documents, is subject to your organization's document retention and destruction policies. Since it's a compound document (it might not reside in a single place), and since it might consist of a mixture of media, check with your document retention specialist to make sure that you understand the policy before you create the program. If you can conform to requirements, using a program instead of an agenda can make a real difference in your meetings. Top Next Issue
For more on agendas, see "An Agenda for Agendas," Point Lookout for May 25, 2005; and "First Aid for Painful Meetings," Point Lookout for October 24, 2001.
Is your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!
Your comments are welcome
Would you like to see your comments posted here? Send me your comments by email
, or by Web form
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful,
and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend
Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive
of past issues. Subscribe for free.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout,
as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in,
anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness
- Recalcitrant Collaborators
- Much of the work we do happens outside the context of a team. We collaborate with people in other departments, other divisions, and other companies. When these collaborators are reluctant, resistive, or recalcitrant, what can we do?
- Troublesome Terminology
- The terms we use at work to talk about practices, policies, and procedures are serviceable, for the most part. But some of them carry connotations and hidden messages that undermine our larger purposes.
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Communications
- Finding work in tough times entails presenting yourself to many people. You'll be conversing, interviewing, writing, presenting, and when you're finally successful, negotiating.
- How to Foresee the Foreseeable: Recognize Haste
- When trouble arises after we commit to a course of action, we sometimes feel that the trouble was foreseeable. One technique for foreseeing the foreseeable depends on recognizing haste in the decision-making process.
- The Tyranny of Singular Nouns
- When groups try to reach decisions, and the issue in question has a name that suggests a unitary concept, such as "policy," they sometimes collectively assume that they're required to find a one-size-fits-all solution. This assumption leads to poor decisions when one-size-fits-all isn't actually required.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Effective Meetings, Effective Communication at Work and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact me for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.com
or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout
are available in six ebooks:
Reprinting this article
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline?
Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Person-to-Person Communication for Project Managers
- When we talk, listen, send or read emails, read or write memos, or when we leave or listen to voice mail messages, we're communicating person-to-person. And whenever we communicate person-to-person, we risk being misunderstood, offending others, feeling hurt, and being confused. There are so many ways for things to go wrong that we could never learn how to fix all the problems. A more effective approach avoids problems altogether, or at least minimizes their occurrence. In this very interactive program you'll learn a model of inter-personal communications that can help you stay out of the ditch. In those moments of intense involvement, when we're most likely to slip, you'll have a new tool to use to keep things constructive. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:
- Download to
your calendarHoliday Inn Mt. Kisco, One Holiday Inn Drive, Mt. Kisco, NY 10549: April 5, Professional Development Day, Westchester Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Download to
your calendarPortland Country Club, 11 Foreside Road, Falmouth, ME 04105: June 19, Monthly Meeting, Maine Chapter of the Project Management Institute. Register now.
- Managing Virtual Meetings for Real Results
- Leading or participating in virtual meetings — teleconferences, Web conferences, video conferences, and more — is challenging. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, distractions, politics, and interpersonal conflict all thrive in the typical environment of the virtual team. We'll inventory the challenges virtual meeting leaders and participants face, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees will learn concrete techniques for preventing and dealing with the problems that arise in virtual meetings. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Organizational Politics for People Who Hate Politics
- Have you ever felt powerless to implement an important new idea? Have you ever been "blind-sided" at a meeting? Have you ever lost two good employees because you could find no way to keep them from attacking each other? These are some of the issues of organizational politics. Many of us have become enmeshed in them from time to time, but we've also known some people who seem to be able to engage and prosper. How is that done? We'll inventory the challenges of organizational politics, and provide tools for anticipating and addressing them. The focus of this program is practical — attendees learn concrete techniques for dealing with the problems that arise in workplace politics, while keeping their integrity intact. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Race to the South Pole: Lessons in Risk Management for Leaders
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough. But to organizational leaders and project managers, the story is fascinating. We'll use the history of this event to explore lessons in risk management and its application to organizational efforts. A fascinating and refreshing look at risk management from the vantage point of history. Read more about this program. Here are some upcoming dates for this program:
- New York Marriott Downtown, 85 West Street at Albany Street, New York, NY 10006: May 22, Breakfast Seminar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute Conference Series. Register now.
- Toronto Marriott Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel, 525 Bay Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5G2L2: June 5, Breakfast Seminar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute Conference Series.
- Boston Marriott Newton, 2345 Commonwealth Avenue, Newton, MA 02466: June 26, Breakfast Seminar, IT Metrics and Productivity Institute Conference Series.