The quality and productivity of meetings can make or break an employee’s experience in the workplace. Meetings that are unfocused can feel like a waste of time and sap motivation. On the other hand, meetings that generate thoughtful discussions can feel fruitful and energizing, bringing employees closer to their colleagues and the company.

That’s why it’s important for business leaders to approach meetings with a plan. One key way to do that is to create an agenda. Here’s what meeting agendas are and tips to craft effective ones so that your team is more likely to feel enthusiastic about collaboration.

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What is a meeting agenda?

A meeting agenda is a document that outlines the plan for a meeting. It includes the objectives, the topics of discussion, and the people who will participate in it. This document is circulated before a meeting occurs so that participants know what to expect before it’s time to connect with their colleagues.

The purpose of a meeting agenda

A well-crafted meeting agenda can lead to more productive meetings by effectively communicating what individuals can expect going into a meeting. Participants can spend time beforehand preparing for it and brainstorming what they will say: having that information ensures team members will bring their best ideas to the meeting rather than spending time trying to generate them on the spot.

Meeting agendas also maximize the time attendants have together by moving the conversation along. Agendas list all the topics to be discussed in a meeting so participants will know not to spend too much time talking about any one topic.

A meeting agenda is also a place to take notes during the meeting. This creates a central repository for ideas shared during the discussion, as well as any action items and follow-ups that come out of it.

Essential elements of an effective agenda

Meeting agendas are usually lists and can come in the form of a Google Doc, an email, or even in the description of the calendar invite. Whatever the format, an effective meeting agenda will include the following elements:

  • Meeting objectives
  • List of topics for discussion
  • Time allocations
  • Participants
  • Any supporting documentation participants need to refer to in the meeting

Steps to draft an effective agenda

Meeting agendas are most useful when they’re clear, concise, and made collaboratively.

Here is how to write an effective meeting agenda:

1 Define the meeting’s objective

Why is this meeting happening? What do you expect to come out of the discussion? Meeting objective examples could include:

  • Ask other teams for help on a project.
  • Brainstorm new initiatives.
  • Share updates from your team with cross-functional leaders.
  • Hear updates from other teams.
  • Share information with your direct reports.

All of these objectives promote visibility and enhance collaboration within the company.

2 Identify key topics to cover

What topics will meeting attendants discuss during the meeting in order to fulfill the gathering’s objective? Pick a few topics to focus on, ideally just 3–6. This prevents the inclusion of too many topics, which could tire out participants. It also keeps the conversation focused. In an agenda document, the topics to be covered usually come in the form of bullet points or a numbered list.

3 Assign time slots and responsible individuals

How long, approximately, should each topic be discussed? Time slots ensure that the group doesn’t spend too much time on any one topic and won’t run out of time in the meeting to discuss other topics on the list. Depending on the circumstances, it can be useful to designate a person who will be in charge of leading the discussion of each section. If each section doesn’t have a distinct owner, the entire meeting will be run by one person, usually the one who called the meeting.

4 Leave room for discussion and decision-making

The purpose of a meeting is to discuss issues and make decisions. In the agenda, either budget time for participants to make a decision or create follow-ups so that a decision can be made in the future.

5 Circulate the agenda in advance

Sending meeting agendas to all attendees in advance of a meeting allows them to know what to expect in the meeting, prepare any needed ideas or materials, and brainstorm what they will say ahead of time. If they feel prepared, they will then feel more empowered to speak up during the meeting.

Tips for enhancing your agenda

Now that you’ve created the basics of a meeting agenda, here are some tips to enhance it:

Include a brief overview of each topic

Next to each bullet-point topic, include a brief description so that attendants will know what to expect. For example, the topic “Q4 review” can include the description “large client wins and areas for improvement.” The topic “Brainstorm for January” can include a note requesting that all participants “please come with 3–4 ideas.”

Set realistic time frames

Discussions often take longer than you think they will, so keep that in mind when estimating time allotments for each topic. If a discussion goes well, with many attendees contributing good ideas, you don’t want to have to cut anyone off. Instead, budget time in the agenda for this happy possibility. Additionally, include buffer time at the beginning and end of the meeting for introductions and a conclusion.

Incorporate participant feedback

When you circulate the agenda among participants, ask if they’d like to change or add to it. They can point out if you’ve missed anything or can include something they would also like to discuss, which will make them more engaged with the meeting and more likely to speak up in it.

Take notes directly in the agenda

Documenting what is said in a meeting creates a central place that anyone in the company can refer to after the meeting. You can take notes (or designate a team member to take notes) during the meeting directly in the meeting agenda document. The notes should also include links to any supporting documents or presentations that were referred to in the meeting.

Use the same document for recurring meetings

Recurring meetings, such as weekly one-on-ones or monthly cross-functional syncs, should have agendas in one running document. Just add another row or section below the last meeting’s agenda for the next meeting’s agenda. Having one document ensures that everyone in the meeting has easy access to everything that was discussed in that same meeting in the past.

List action items and follow-ups

While it would be nice if all meetings finished with final decisions made, most meetings begin a conversation and create the necessity to follow up on various points. List those follow-ups directly in the meeting agenda document, and be sure to include which individual from the meeting is responsible for which action item. These follow-ups can be emailed to whoever is responsible for each one.

Use an agenda template

An agenda template is helpful if you’re not sure what to discuss in a meeting. It can also give the same structure to recurring meetings. Many digital collaboration tools—including Google Docs, which has been designed to make it easy to list participants and tag them—include agenda templates.

Common agenda mistakes to avoid

An agenda provides structure to a meeting. There are some common mistakes first-time agenda writers make, including the following:

Not having a meeting objective

There are few things employees hate more than sitting in meetings and wondering why they’re there. The meeting should have one clear objective. Make sure that the meeting you’ve called is indeed necessary in order to, for example, reach consensus on an issue, or present materials that the attendants need in order to do their jobs.

Inviting too many people

Just as every meeting should have a distinct purpose, every participant in that meeting should be there because they need to be. Ask yourself if someone truly needs to be in a meeting because their input is necessary to the meeting objective. If not, spare their calendars and don’t invite them. Notes from the agenda can always be shared afterward with non-participants.

Overcrowding the agenda with topics

A meeting is not a lot of time, usually just 15 minutes to an hour. It’s tempting to cram a lot of topics into an agenda or to go off on tangents, especially if it’s difficult to schedule time with a specific group of people. But overcrowding the agenda can make the conversation feel rushed and hurried. If you feel like there are a lot of disparate topics on an agenda, that’s a sign to split that meeting into two or more separate meetings.

Being vague

Agendas should be written so that each participant is clear on the objective of the meeting and each discussion item for it. Vague meeting agenda topics such as “Update” or “Brainstorm” don’t help anyone get a sense of what to expect in the meeting.

Lacking clear action items

Action items ensure everyone knows what the next steps are coming out of a meeting. That can be to revise a section of a presentation before it goes to a client, or to ask someone on another team the status of a project. Without action items, it’s unclear how the meeting will contribute to the overall business.

Failing to send the agenda ahead of the meeting

The purpose of a meeting agenda is to share context with all participants before a meeting starts. If the meeting is the first time they’re seeing the agenda, they will not have had time to prepare beforehand, and the discussion will be less effective than it otherwise could have been.

Meeting agenda example

A meeting of leadership members at a company may look like this:

Meeting Title: Marketing <> Sales Monthly Sync


  • Margot, Chief Sales Officer
  • Sally, Chief Marketing Officer
  • Brennan, Vice President of North American Sales
  • Surya, Vice President of European Sales
  • Felix, Director of Demand Generation
  • Georgina, Head of Content Marketing

Discussion items:

  1. Overall sales goals (Margot, 3 min.)
  2. Overall marketing goals (Sally, 3 min.)
  3. Europe sales Q4 KPI review (Surya, 7 min.)
  4. New content strategy for 2024 (Georgina, 7 min.)
  5. Brainstorm new ways sales and marketing can work together this year (all, 5–7 min.)
  6. Closing statements (Margot and Sally, 1 min.)

Key points

  • Meeting agendas provide structure to a meeting and allow participants to adequately prepare beforehand, which enhances the productivity of the gathering.
  • An effective meeting agenda is concise and includes the objectives, discussion topics, and time allocations for each one, and the names of participants.
  • The group can take notes during the meeting directly in the agenda, creating a record of what was said, and the agenda should feature a place to list follow-ups.
  • Business leaders ought to implement these strategies to ensure they’re running more effective and engaging meetings for their teams and colleagues.

Meeting agenda FAQs

What is the ideal length for a meeting agenda?

The ideal length for a meeting agenda depends on the length and goal of the meeting. For one-on-one check-ins that are 10–15 minutes long, two or three discussion items are sufficient. For 30-minute brainstorming meetings that involve leaders within a company, the agenda can include up to 5 or 6 topics, assuming that each topic is discussed for about 5 minutes.

How far in advance should the agenda be shared?

The agenda should be shared with attendants at least one day before the meeting. For meetings that ask participants to prepare materials to present at the meeting, give them even more time to do so by circulating the agenda a few days or a week in advance.

Can a meeting agenda be flexible?

Meeting agendas should strike a balance between structure and flexibility. They should provide an outline of topics for discussion but should be flexible enough to accommodate lingering on any one topic if the group is having a particularly productive discussion.

How should action items be handled in the agenda?

Action items should be written down by the notetaker of the meeting. They should then be sent to the people responsible for the items, via email or Slack or by tagging them in the agenda document.

What role do participants play in shaping the agenda?

Participants should be given the chance to offer their input in shaping the meeting agenda. Doing so will make them feel like they’re a valued contributor, which will make them more eager to speak up in the meeting.

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