The Meeting Trick Everyone at Work Will Want to Copy

Do you ever feel like meetings are the bane of your work existence?

Have you ever felt like you waste a lot of time in meetings, talking but never making a decision?

Or maybe you keep hearing people say they’ll do things but they never remember to follow through on their promises?

I remember one month in a previous job where I swear we discussed the same topic every week, forgetting what we talked about by the next week, then having the same discussion the following week.

Get me out of meeting hell!

Don’t waste your limited time like this. Meetings are already a resource-intensive cost for any business. The more people you have in a room at any given time, the more person-hours are being spent not creating something profitable for your business.

There are many great tips for making meetings more productive (or eliminating them altogether.) One of these productivity enhancing tips include making sure the meeting has an owner and an agenda. I’d like to share with you a simple tool to work that agenda.

Kick-ass meeting agendas

This 3-column meeting agenda was introduced to me by a marketing manager I once worked with at a small startup. Before she came in, marketing meetings were described by team members as “awful” or “a twice-weekly nightmare.”

After introducing this revolutionary agenda, we were able to better organize our meetings and even see that we could reduce them to include fewer people who needed to meet less often. The twice-weekly “nightmare” was reduced to once a week, and only with the people who needed to be there. Dream come true for everyone involved!

I’ve since taken this format with me to all my meetings, and introduce it to co-workers and clients wherever I go. A few weeks ago I got an email out of the blue from a client —

I just wanted to let you know that I ALWAYS use the format for kick-ass agendas you used- item, question/issue, and follow up. It’s awesome and so helpful. Thank you for introducing me to that 😊 — Hanna M.

Here’s why it’s so valuable:

This simple tool allows you to think about meetings from an action-oriented perspective, ensuring the topics discussed are actionable and valuable for all attendees.

You may be familiar with meeting agendas that list out things like meeting attendees, when and where you met, and a bullet-point list of topics to discuss. These simply don’t work.

You don’t need a meeting to read off a bulleted list of points. Just send them in an email.

The FYI list, status update, or any other information-sharing meeting is a waste of everyone’s time. If you read off a list and expect everyone in the room to just nod in acknowledgement, you don’t need to call a meeting. Send the information in an email and save everyone the hassle of context-switching and gathering in your meeting room.

Every agenda item should have an answer or a follow-up action.

The 3-column meeting agenda sets you up to think about your agenda items in this way:

1. What is the topic I want to bring up?

2. What is my specific question or discussion point?

3. What will be the answer or follow-up action?

Just thinking about your meeting in this way helps eliminate a lot of the time-wasting crap you see at so many meetings. It’s a simple but super valuable shift to set your meeting up for success.

Here’s how to set it up:

Set up your agenda on a shared document.

Many companies use Google Docs to give everyone in the company access to any document. This works great for meeting agendas. Share your document with everyone in the meeting, and encourage them to add topics to the agenda.

Create a 3-column table in the shared document.

  1. Above the table, write the date of the meeting.
  2. In the top left cell, create a heading for the first column as “Topic”
  3. In the second cell, create the heading “Issue”
  4. In the third cell, create the heading “Follow-up”

Now fill out your meeting agenda following that format — the topic in the left to set context, the individual discussion points in the middle column that you want to bring up. Leave the 3rd column blank, this will be filled out as the meeting takes place.

Hit ‘tab’ to create a new row for the next topic, so you have one row per topic. (Some topics may have more than one question or issue, all in one cell, or go ahead and break those into separate rows, whichever your dear heart desires!)

As you go through the topics in your meeting, fill out the third column with answers to questions, new information discussed, decisions made, and follow-up actions determined, along with the initials of the people who agreed to do the actions.

Use the same document for following meetings.

This works great for recurring team meetings (like those weekly marketing meetings.)

  1. Highlight and copy the top row of the table you filled out for the previous week.
  2. Paste it at the top of your document to create a new table above the old one.
  3. Write the date of the new meeting above the new table.

Now as you go through the meeting, you can scroll down to refer back to the previous week’s action items and put them in as discussion points to check in with your team and make sure they are following up.

No post-meeting follow-up email needed!

Let your team know to refer back to this agenda to remember what they will be held accountable to — eliminating your need to spend that time after the meeting typing up follow-up actions to your team!

If a question comes up that you discussed last week, you can scroll down and refer back to what was discussed previously. No more forgetting and repeating the same conversations endlessly!

Use this agenda format for every meeting.

Once our marketing manager created this agenda format for the marketing meetings, it was only a matter of time before all team meetings started using the same format.

As I worked with other companies, I introduced this format to them as well, and it’s been just as revolutionary every time. It’s so simple to use and keeps everything super organized.

Create a new doc for each recurring meeting you have, give it an easy to remember title (i.e. “Weekly Marketing Meeting Agenda”) and share it with the appropriate team members.

This works great if you have everyone around a projected screen, and it also works even if you have a remote team, everyone looking at the same document on their individual screens.

A note about cleanup:

After a few months of using the same agenda doc for every weekly meeting, it can be worthwhile to go in and cut/paste tables with a date older than a couple months to an archive document (also shared with team members so they can refer back to it if needed).

This is helpful for a couple reasons — the most important is just speed. I’ve found that sometimes having too long of a document can cause slowness or buggy behavior in Google Docs, especially for folks with older laptops.

Another less common reason may be access to sensitive information — depending on what’s being discussed at your meeting and who has access as time goes on, you may want to clean up when team members change roles.

Go forth and make every meeting count!