Want better meetings? Keep a Running Agenda “tickler list”

Written by: Karl Sakas

Have you ever left a meeting and realized you forgot to cover something important? It’s like driving home from the grocery store and realizing you forgot to buy the main thing you meant to get!

A client reached out to ask for help on this at their 20-person agency—where their account managers forget to cover certain topics at meetings about key clients:

“In our [executive team] retreat, we discussed researching and implementing some sort of approach that allows us to establish a better workflow between our accounts. This should make our teams flow smoother, share more and cut down on the resources that are needed to provide good work.

We use [lightweight PM software] and have all these meetings but people only bring up selectively what they want to. I’m not sure if this is something that can be accomplished unless we have a checklist of everything that needs to be brought up in each meeting?”

You could use a more comprehensive PM software option like Teamwork (which lets you slice-and-dice lists by client, the person doing the task, and date). That would require some customization—but more broadly, I don’t recommend switching PM systems without a strong business case for why.

Root cause: Why aren’t people sharing?

To find a simpler solution, you need to identify the root cause—I’d start by asking why people are sharing things selectively:

  1. If they’re willfully skipping things, that’s a personnel problem.
  2. If they aren’t staying on top of what needs to happen, they should be spending more time before the meeting to build a list of topics—including keeping track of new topics as they come up.
  3. If they aren’t aware of what needs to be discussed because they don’t understand the implications, that’s a training/skillset issue.

If the root cause is #2 (people are forgetting things), it’s time to create a “tickler” doc as a Running Agenda for each meeting.

Create a “Tickler” doc

For a low-tech solution, you can use a paper notebook. Record what you need to cover as you think about it, and review the list before your meeting. The downside is that you can’t share the list with your meeting partner(s), so people don’t know what everyone else wants to cover ’til the meeting starts.

A more collaborative solution is to create a digital “tickler” doc (e.g., a Google Doc, a list in your PM software, or a set of notes in Evernote). You might have one tickler doc per client, and another tickler doc for certain topics (e.g., sales, operations, marketing, etc.).

I use a collaborative system like that for weekly meetings with my senior copywriter, with my business coach, and with my marketing association’s President-Elect. That way, when we start a meeting, we know what to cover, no matter when we thought of the “must-discuss” topics.

Agree on a goal up front

Separate from the topic list, you can also agree on a goal when the meeting starts. In my coaching calls, I start by asking, “What would make today’s call a success for you?” I do this so often that I have initials for it in internal docs: “WWMTCAS?” I won’t move forward until we nail that down—because I know that we otherwise get to the end of the meeting and the client has had a chance to vent but we haven’t accomplished anything concrete.

Do the same in your meetings—or else you’ll find you didn’t accomplish what you planned to, which means the meeting was probably a waste of time.

Applying this at your agency

The right solution for your agency will depend on the root cause(s) of the problem(s), along your technology of choice. But ultimately, the key is to find a solution that’s easy to access as you think of topics—and easy to access when you need to refer back to things later.

Question: How do you remember what to cover at recurring meetings?

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