Why Effective and Efficient Communication is Key to Managing the Pre-Meeting Agenda Process (And 4 Pro Tips)

Written by Megan Asikainen

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One of the most crucial responsibilities of a clerk—and often the most stress-inducing—is the agenda creation and approval process. But why? Clerks are organized, detailed, and informed on all the topics and issues that need to be discussed at every meeting. The challenge they face often stymies proactive, organized doers: coordinating with peers and colleagues who do not feel the same sense of urgency to prioritize others’ requests.

Your fellow local government leaders undoubtedly care about the agenda and forthcoming meeting, but thanks to your determination week after week, they know that the agenda will magically (in their mind) always come together in the end. Meanwhile, you are sweating and staring at your inbox, waiting for approval on your fourth follow-up email.

You can end the cycle.

The solution to taking the stress out of the agenda preparation and pre-meeting coordination process is to improve your communication rituals with your peers. This advice may sound like an oversimplification since you are likely in regular communication with your peers already, despite a year of social distancing. Still, there are nuances to the coordination and collaboration process and technology you can leverage to hold your agenda contributors accountable and ensure you get the items and feedback you need in time for orderly and timely agenda finalization.

Adapting to a Decentralized Work Model

A discussion on communication and collaboration is incomplete without acknowledging that clerks who used to walk next door to their fellow leaders’ offices to remind them of their overdue agenda items have temporarily lost the impact of such facetime. While our communities are hopeful that recent vaccine advancements will have us all back in our offices in a matter of months, in reality, the COVID-19 pandemic has created new expectations for remote work that are likely to be long-lasting, which means clerks need to be prepared to leverage the best of modern technology to replace and improve traditional, in-person methods. With that in mind, what follows are four pro tips to enhancing your pre-meeting communication practices.

Communication Tip # 1: Set a realistic deadline but give yourself a cushion.

Part of the reason that clerks receive last-minute agenda topics and updated documents is that municipalities are busy places with important ongoing activities. Presenters and staff want to provide the latest and most accurate information that could change until the last minute. These situations are unavoidable. To best manage items in process and items that are not expected to change, set a deadline of a few days in advance to receive agenda items and supporting documents. This requirement should give you time to organize your agenda and packet and give you a cushion for those who will inevitably be late providing information. If you’re using an agenda management system, you can set a deadline within the system to help automate reminders for collaborators who tend to wait until the last minute to finalize content.

Communication Tip # 2: Help key players understand the importance of your deadline.

If you set a deadline every month, and every month it is not enforced, staff will start to think of your deadline as a recommendation. Try to hold firm to the deadline as best you can. Explain to those who are regularly tardy that their inability to provide agenda items on time could impact the meeting’s effectiveness since the time you have to update agenda packets is limited.

Communication Tip # 3: Follow up early and often.

If you do not start reminding staff members to turn in agenda items until after your deadline has passed, you will constantly be working behind your deadline. Aside from the initial call for agenda items and deadline notification, remind staff members two days before your deadline, the day before, and the day of the deadline. In many instances, this countdown-style reminder gives the push needed for staff to provide information on time. If you feel like you do not have time in your already busy day to send multiple reminders, consider investing in agenda and meeting management software. Such tools can automate reminders, format agendas, and collate supporting documents to help save you time while streamlining your document organization processes.

Communication Tip # 4: Schedule check-ins.

For some busy leaders, the most effective way to get their attention is to get on their calendar. However, use this tactic sparingly and only for those peers who truly need a one-on-one interaction to collaborate on agenda items and coordinate approvals. A 2019 study indicates that leaders in highly collaborative positions report having an average of 17 meetings per week. With the average meeting lasting 30 minutes, that is 8.5 hours of meetings in a traditional 40-hour workweek. Avoid scheduling meetings with all your stakeholders, as the time investment may become burdensome for you and them. Instead, schedule a 15-minute check-in with those peers bottlenecking the approval process who need a call or in-person meeting to finalize their input.

Final Advice

Consistent, deadline-driven communications will help your staff members to understand the importance of their contributions and respect the vital role you play in ensuring your meeting is well organized and includes all of the information, documents, and supporting materials needed to meet transparency requirements with stakeholders and citizens. Leverage automated technology to enhance your manual check-ins and reminders, whether working from your office or home. Eventually, even your most stubbornly tardy contributors will prioritize their responsiveness, and your coordination process will improve to everyone’s mutual benefit.