How to Create an Effective Agenda for Your Next Community of Practice Meeting

Agendas in Communities of PracticeOne mainstay of Communities of Practice (CoPs) is that they are a collective; the focus on Community is intentional. This is one of the things that distinguishes CoPs from other business teams and why they’re my preferred model of collaboration. The meeting agenda exemplifies how a Community of Practice functions differently.

When it comes to meeting agendas no one person is solely responsible for owning or controlling the agenda. The agenda is a co-constructed and collaborative affair. When a meeting agenda is handled this way, everyone takes responsibility for the meeting outcomes. 

But of course, problems can arise when there are conflicts of interest, confusion about the meeting topic, length, etc. This leads us to the question: How can Communities of Practice create quality agendas and have productive meetings, despite the challenges that come when working with a diverse group of people? 

I’ve outlined four questions you should answer as you create an effective agenda for your next CoP meeting:

Who will be the meeting facilitator? 

One provision to ensure that you’re all on “the same page” (agenda) is to have a designated facilitator. This person is the one that will get everyone involved in the creation of the agenda for the next meeting. With online tools, it’s very easy to collaborate on a meeting agenda but the facilitator will be the one who ultimately ensures that it gets done.

I’ve noticed that experienced CoPs will rotate the job of the facilitator. That way, no one person is responsible for creating and presenting the agenda. In addition to creating the agenda, a facilitator in a CoP meeting will want to make sure each member has a chance to speak, that meetings stay on track, and meeting goals are accomplished. 

In a successful CoP meeting, all responsibilities are divided among several individuals, the facilitator is not necessarily the team leader. For example, the role of knowledge management focuses on organizing and posting community documents—such as agendas.

(Note: Add some fun to your agendas to help build community! I remember one community meeting where my colleague’s spouse arrived with their toddler who was wearing a sandwich board with the agenda. Extreme creativity points! Fun and team building all in one. This illustrates an important point, getting the group engaged sometimes takes some creativity. If you see that certain members aren’t engaged in the meeting, try to get them involved. Remember the reason why they’re there!) 

What is the purpose of your meeting?

Have you ever been at a meeting when it feels like you’re going round and round in circles and never getting anywhere? Most likely, the problem was your meeting didn’t have a purpose. When your meeting has a clear purpose, that’s outlined in the agenda, it will focus all of your community members and give your meeting direction. 

The first ten minutes or so of a meeting will often be about the question: Why does this matter? If no one in the group can answer that question, you might as well leave because the meeting is unlikely to be productive.

It’s much better to give this serious thought prior to the meeting. As you prepare the agenda, you’ll want to determine if the purpose is dealing with a short-term tactical problem or if it is more of a long-term strategic issue. Will your participants need to be prepared to brainstorm solutions or just listen? If this hasn’t been clarified by the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, things can quickly break down.

Why is each of you needed at this particular meeting?

We’re all busy and it can be difficult to schedule-out time for team meetings. Spend your time wisely! Most CoP meeting time should be spent discussing and making decisions on issues that affect the whole community and issues the whole community can take part in solving. 

You may want your agenda to specifically mention the reasons why each person should be present. Also, write out the agenda topics as questions that the team needs to answer, as opposed to statements. This will stimulate people to want to attend so their voice is heard.

If the meeting exists simply to disseminate information, put it in writing and send it out for others to read. One way informational meetings are an absolute waste of time. If you find that people aren’t reading the information, that’s a deeper issue of engagement and a true CoP might be just the solution to share more information and responsibilities and increase engagement.

How long should this meeting be?

If the meeting is too long, the interest of the group will wane. Conversely, if the meeting is too short, you could risk ending without a resolution of any kind, which will only stagnate future action. A meeting is correctly ended when all participants leave with clarity and commitment. 

As you prepare the agenda, try to schedule the right amount of time by estimating how much time each topic will take. The facilitator may need to involve others in determining how much time each item will take. Finally, make sure to distribute the meeting agenda with enough time for everyone to prepare as this will speed the meeting along. When an agenda item takes longer than estimated, engage the group in a quick agreement to either extend the time allotted for the item, and thereby reduce the amount of time for another topic, or move the item to ad hoc work, individual follow-up, or a subsequent meeting.

Done right, your next CoP meeting can be constructive, and interesting, for all involved. The best CoPs are by the people, for the people. 

Are you intrigued by the benefits of a Community of Practice? I can support you to create a self-facilitating Community of Practice that is built, owned, and managed by your team. Contact me to learn more or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team.

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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