Unorganized meetings do more than drain our lives away a minute at a time—they also waste billions of dollars. In the U.S. alone, poorly organized meetings cost $399 billion each year in lost productivity.1 That’s not the surprising part, either.
What’s surprising is that the cost isn’t higher. According to data compiled by meeting software company Attentiv, 63% of meetings don’t have an agenda.2 That makes learning how to write a team meeting agenda one of the simplest ways to recover all that lost productivity.
The rise of remote work makes it even more important for leaders to know how to compile an effective team meeting agenda. Luckily, writing an agenda that recovers lost productivity and helps remote team members meet the challenges of working from home is a skill anyone can master. And here’s how.
In this post, we’ll look at:
- What makes for a good meeting agenda
- How to write an effective meeting agenda in 3 steps
- 2 templates to help structure your team meetings
🌟 Empower employees with our set of 5 free meeting agenda templates—each one tailored for a different type of meeting.
A good, well-structured team meeting agenda does three things. First, it establishes the need for a meeting and the desired outcome. Second, it respects everyone’s time by clearly defining what’s needed from them. Third, it creates a closed communication loop, so everyone feels confident about next steps.
These qualities of a good meeting agenda benefit everyone, but they especially help remote team members. Here’s how a team meeting agenda helps address the challenges of remote work:
- It creates specificity and intentionality. Two of the biggest remote work challenges are knowing what to prioritize and avoiding overworking.3 A well-defined agenda helps solve both by showing team members exactly how to prepare for upcoming meetings.
- It respects everyone’s time. A good remote meeting agenda keeps things brisk and focused, ending things before everyone’s focus and energy slide into diminishing returns. In fact, entrepreneurs like Matt Mullenweg of Automattic think remote team meetings should be 15 minutes by default.4 That helps hone focus on the agenda’s desired outcomes.
- It gives the meeting closure. Open-ended meetings can sink productivity because they leave everyone uncertain about what to do next. Remote team members are particularly vulnerable to that uncertainty because of the added pressure to self-manage. But a good team meeting agenda sets aside time to define next steps, so everyone feels confident about what’s expected of them.
By knowing the basic elements of an effective meeting agenda and having solid templates to start from, any team can quickly write agendas that deliver the above benefits.
Keep these three goals in mind, and you’ll write meeting agendas that consistently engage your team during meetings and set them up for success:
- Be clear on what you need from everyone.
- Factor remote realities into the agenda.
- Prioritize takeaways and next steps.
Let’s unpack each of these steps in greater detail.
1. Be clear on what you need from everyone
An effective team meeting agenda is active, not passive. It goes beyond listing discussion and presentation points to also define how everyone should contribute to the meeting. In fact, outlining clear actions for attendees to take is one of the best ways to conduct a successful meeting.
Consider that in Doodle’s state of meetings report 2019, 44% of workers said unorganized meetings prevented them from getting other work done.5 On top of that, 43% said unclear meeting actions left them confused about what they were supposed to do:
Here are three easy ways your agenda can help avoid this confusion.
- Define what team members should prepare for the meeting—for instance, their thoughts on a design mockup or ideas to improve sales numbers next quarter.
- Set expectations around how much time preparations should take. For example, spend no more than an hour reviewing last quarter’s business reports.
- Link or attach to the agenda that should be reviewed prior.
Also, remember to send the agenda far enough in advance that people have time to prepare. Consider 24 hours a minimum, and ideally, send your meeting agendas at least several days ahead of time.6
2. Factor remote realities into the team meeting agenda
The rules and courtesies of in-office meetings change when applied to remote teams. People will be late on occasion. They’ll want to socialize, too, given working from home means less interaction than at the office. All of this is okay. Instead of fighting it, leverage it.
As digital adoption platform Whatfix points out, a remote team meeting is also a team-building activity.7 It’s one of the few times remote team members get to socialize, so make that part of the meeting agenda. Set aside the first five minutes, for example, for an icebreaker session.
Also, understand that video is a powerful meeting and collaboration tool. But like messaging and phone calls, you’ll need to use video calls for the right message at the right time. Combat video fatigue by keeping meetings short, or look for spots to add breaks into the agenda.
And be compassionate when people are late, especially when they need a breather after coming from another video meeting. This is another reason to start with an icebreaker session—it gives everyone a buffer if they need it.
3. Prioritize takeaways and next steps
Just like your team meeting agenda should clarify what everyone needs to prepare and how they should contribute, it should also set up clear actions for everyone to take afterward. Dedicate the last 5–10 minutes for the team to identify next steps, update relevant projects, and document internal knowledge together. When teams define next steps together during a meeting, they often discover information worth documenting on your internal and external knowledge bases:
By creating clear next steps together, teams tame the ambiguity that would cost them hours in lost productivity. As Harvard Business Review reports, most of us respond negatively to uncertainty,8 and Psychology Today sheds light on why: those with a low tolerance to ambiguity see it as threatening and stressful, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed.9
But the benefits of teams defining next steps together go beyond reducing ambiguity, especially for remote workers. In-meeting collaboration like this builds team engagement, and according to a meta-analysis from Gallup, better team engagement translates to higher productivity and fewer mistakes.10
Want a head start on writing organized meeting agendas that make everyone feel empowered and productive? Copy and paste these free meeting agenda templates. Each one covers a common type of remote meeting that you can tailor to your team’s needs.
1. Weekly one-on-one remote meeting agenda
Regular check-ins with individual team members ensure that everyone receives individual attention. As Natalie Onions, director of customers at Customer.io told Vitally, “When you’re not physically together as a team, you can’t see when someone has piles of work on their desk or see the look on their face through the day.”11
“When you’re not physically together as a team, you can’t see when someone has piles of work on their desk or see the look on their face through the day.” – Natalie Onions, director of customers at Customer.io12
Copy and paste this team meeting agenda for 30-minute one-on-ones with remote employees.
Weekly 1:1 agenda:
- Break the ice (5 minutes) – Connect on a personal level before diving into business.
- Progress (5 minutes) – What successes have happened since our last meeting?
- Obstacles (5 minutes) – What’s blocking you from achieving your goals?
- Decisions (5 minutes) – What goals did we adjust? What do we need outside input on?
- Next steps (5 minutes) – What actions need to happen next? Who’s responsible for them? When will they be done?
What to prepare:
- Spend 5–10 minutes reviewing last meeting’s notes on 1:1 doc.
- Spend 5–10 minutes updating any relevant projects or goals you’re tracking.
- 1:1 meeting doc (link to file where you and your team member document each meeting)
- Any other resources needed for this meeting:
In a 30-minute agenda, fill it up only with 25 minutes of discussion. Leave a buffer so that if one part of the agenda runs long, or one of you gets stuck in another meeting, you still have enough time. An extra five minutes comes in handy for those scenarios, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with ending a meeting early.
2. Weekly or monthly remote team meeting agenda
Regular team meetings are important for more than just sharing information. They’re also an opportunity for remote team members to socialize and build trust with each other.
Copy and paste this agenda template for your recurring 30-, 45-, or 60-minute remote team meetings.
Team meeting agenda:
- Break the ice (5–10 minutes) – Consider having a prompt ready. For instance, message a team member a few days before and see if they’d like to introduce their pet.
- Presentation (15–25 minutes) – The main focus of the meeting, such as introducing a best practice, reviewing last quarter’s performance, or going over the details of a major upcoming project.
- Q&A (5–15 minutes) – Discussion of what was presented. Send out materials in advance and ask people to prepare questions to make the conversation more lively.
- Next steps (5–10 minutes) – Involve the team in defining what needs to happen next, and immediately record tasks where appropriate, such as in your project management software. Also, identify any internal knowledge shared during the meeting that’s worth documenting.
What to prepare:
- Spend 20–30 minutes reviewing the presentation deck and preparing questions.
- Spend 10–15 minutes on a task that adds further context to the meeting—for instance, finding three great examples of email marketing, or three competitor websites with standout branding.
- Presentation (link to or attach it for easy review)
- Any other resources needed for this meeting
Write team meeting agendas that make your remote employees productive and engaged
Fast-growing companies know that effective meetings are a differentiator. Imagine your teams looking forward to what they can accomplish in every meeting. Picture new remote employees feeling like part of the team so quickly that they regularly post on LinkedIn about how empowering it is to work for you.
Learning to write an effective meeting agenda is one of the easiest ways to get started. By using the above team meeting agenda templates and connecting your employees with a communications platform built for remote collaboration, you’ll build a team that knows what’s expected of them and is ready to take action.
Originally published Sep 26, 2020, updated Jun 23, 2021