Why Every Meeting Needs an Agenda

Why Every Meeting Needs an Agenda


If you’ve ever led a volunteer board or committee meeting, you know that not everybody agrees with everything all of the time. But there are definitely some commonalities: We’re all volunteers; we’re all willing to serve; and we have meetings to stay on track to reach our goals. In the recent past, I’ve had the opportunity to serve several different organizations as president, leading a variety of people in these different organizations. Here are a few tips that have served me well when leading board and committee meetings that I hope you’ll find helpful.

  1. Start with an agenda and stick with it! The agenda gives you an easy out when discussions get derailed. Simply bring it back to the agenda item at hand, tabling any other discussion for a later discussion.
  2. Add times to the agenda so that everyone knows how much time they have to give a brief report on their part. If you’re leading a board meeting, table the discussion about detailed committee work and just allow two or three minutes for a brief committee report. Anything longer can derail the topic and take you off the agenda. If you have items that require a vote, pull those items out ahead of time so everyone knows in advance.
  3. Strong personalities and opinions could derail a meeting, if not dealt with immediately. If someone tries to derail a discussion, as president or committee chair, politely remind them that it’s not their issue, committee, or topic. Invite them to join that committee to assist in the future. If they persist, ask them to stay after the meeting and speak to them one-on-one. They often want to feel that they’ve been heard, even when they don’t go about it in a professional manner. Diplomacy in leadership can be a tight rope walk, but it’s vital.
  4. Much of the work of a volunteer leader happens outside of a board or committee meeting. To keep things on track, I’ve attended committee meetings and had calls with board members ahead of a formal board meeting to discuss specific items and make sure our goals are on track. Operating under the “rule of no surprises,” effective leaders take time to check in with others to know what’s happening in their organization and to offer their assistance, when needed. Don’t let a board meeting be where you learn that one of your committee chairs is resigning or to report that your speakers for next week’s program can’t make it. Keep in touch throughout the month or time in between meetings to keep communication flowing.
  5. End on time! Especially if your agenda states an ending time. If your meeting is not over at the appointed time, take a vote to continue—or to table the rest and conclude. Keeping your meetings to their allotted time is the sign of effective leadership. And effective leaders are critical to the success of the organizations we serve.


The SMPS board of directors exercises many of these points at our quarterly board meetings and operates under Robert’s Rules of Order. If you have any questions about leading a board meeting or committee meeting, ask a Society board member and check out Robert’s Rules of Order, a manual of parliamentary procedure that governs most organizations with a board of directors. It has been around since 1876, and is still widely used.

Beth Harris, FSMPS, CPSM, F.SAME, currently serves as director at large on the SMPS board of directors. She is also a past-president of SMPS Atlanta, SAME Atlanta Post, and is the immediate past-president of the Georgia Engineering Foundation.

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