Clarifying Aims and Purposes

Whenever I design an agenda or facilitate a meeting, I make sure that right at the top of that agenda there is a statement of one or two purposes; what are we trying to accomplish at the meeting? It’s a general statement such as, “to ensure that we are ready for fall classes,” or “to plan our research agenda for next year”….whatever our overall goal for the meeting might be.

Thomas Kayser, an internationally known authority on meetings, whose work is actually in the reference section of this site, says that before you call a meeting, become very clear on its aims and purposes. He says, do not call a meeting and then try to figure out how to fill the time, or what to do when the people get there. And, I think Kayser is very right when he says that only when the leader is clear on the aims and purposes of that meeting, have you earned the right to call people together. When you think about the amount of salary dollars and time that go into meetings, this becomes very apparent.

At Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute, the faculty and staff are taking meetings and meeting planning very seriously. They are working to improve productivity of meetings on their campus. They recognize the role an agenda with aims plays in a productive meeting. In fact, anyone at that institution who walks into a meeting and there is no agenda is free to leave. What if we did that on our campus?

So, as a leader, before you call a meeting, be sure that you yourself are clear on the aims and purposes. The people who attend will appreciate it, and are much more likely to respond the next time you ask them to come to a meeting.