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(excerpt from the book, How to Lead Work Teams, by Fran Rees, pp. 89-91, 93-95; Copyright 1991 by Pfeiffer & Company)(This material is used by permission of John Wiley & Sons, Inc.)

Simply speaking, objectives are focused, agendas are not. Objectives define the desired outcome of the meeting; agendas define only the topics to be covered. Objectives give teams and groups something to strive for; agendas give them something to endure. Objectives call for active participation; agendas permit passivity. Most people agree that one of the most important ingredients of a meeting is an "agenda" and that a meeting is successful if the agenda is adhered to and completed. Without a doubt, a meeting with an agenda that serves as a focal point is more successful than a meeting that rambles on and on without an agenda or a time schedule. However, an agenda is not enough. It usually includes only a list of topics to be covered, a time schedule, and the name of the presenter for each item … The way to avoid … problems is to establish one or more clearly stated objectives for the meeting. An agenda can then be created to support the objectives. Instead of a list of topics, the agenda becomes a flow of activities that the team or group will take part in to accomplish the objective.

A sample meeting objective with its supporting agenda might look like this:

Our objective for today’s meeting is to decide which one of the three alternative data-base management systems best meets our established criteria. The agenda for the meeting will be:

9:00 Review criteria. Make necessary changes.
9:30 Discuss pros and cons of each system in relation to criteria.
10:00 Plot decision grid. Rank choices.
10:30 Discuss top-ranked choice. Weigh against criteria. Decide on system.

Another way of publishing the agenda is to leave off the times, showing only the approximate length of the meeting.

Writing Meeting Objectives

Writing out the objectives for a meeting helps everyone understand its purpose. When the objectives are also posted where they can be seen during the meeting, they keep the group focused. It is helpful to think of a meeting objective as having three ingredients: an action, an outcome, and qualifiers (if necessary). Actions that groups can accomplish in a meeting are described by such words as plan, develop, decide, determine, generate, identify, recommend, list, priorize, solve, resolve, and the like. Start the objective with an action word that describes what the group will do during the meeting, something that can be observed ... The outcome tells what the product or result of that action will be. For example, in "Decide how to improve the use of our new telephone system," the action is decide. The outcome is how to improve the use of our new telephone system … Objectives usually need some additional words to put them in clear focus for the meeting. These words, called qualifiers, further describe the objective and set important parameters, such as time frames. For example … "Generate a list of ideas that will improve customer service and select the top two or three for immediate implementation." These qualifiers specify that the ideas have to improve customer service, that the group has to select the top two or three (not just one and not all of them), and that the two or three ideas that are selected have to be implemented immediately. An objective does not necessarily need this many qualifiers, but the more qualifiers you include, the clearer and more focused the objective will be. A good question to ask is whether you have included enough qualifiers to focus the group.

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