When Your “Perfect” Agenda Isn’t Working Perfectly


Three perfect jobs! Each one of them required major adjustments to the agenda. Each of these adjustments turned out beautifully. So as I reflect back on these three perfect yet challenging client meetings, I realize that I have become consciously competent at changing agendas on the fly! Here’s my attempt to share the steps and the thought processes I go through to make these major agenda shifts and still get good results.

Let me introduce you to this blog article…


Perfect Job #1
Choose a Radically Different Approach to Your Agenda Item

It was a classic meeting agenda where the client had a PowerPoint presentation and wanted the group to ask questions after the presentation. It was important contextual information to share for the group to be able to complete its task. Not surprisingly we noticed some were over participating in asking lots of questions after the presentations and others were under participating. We assumed that the ones who didn’t ask many questions were a captive audience for hearing the information others wanted to hear but it did not allow them to probe for their own understanding.

Step 1 – Define the problem. In this case, we had important information to share but the way it was being shared resulted in some dominating and others being quiet.

Step 2 – Consider the solution. Ask, “What if we were to reverse the process we typically use in these meetings?” Our reverse question was framed as follows, “Instead of bringing the information to the participants, how can we bring the participants to the information in a way that feels safe to them?”

Step 3 – Map out the details of the solution. Think about the room and the resources you have for the meeting. In this situation we realized a perfect setup would be to create expert stations around the room and encourage all the meeting participants to visit any and all of the stations that most interested them. They got to sit down and have small group chats with the experts. This allowed everyone to become more familiar with key information they needed to provide future advice on the topic.

Tip: Prepare people ahead of time for this somewhat radical agenda shift.

Perfect Job #2
Stop the Agenda or Delay Until Ready

It was a multi-day event where many organizations from the same field came together to plan a program. The first event was to help people understand what had gone on before in terms of the previous program. The second day agenda had been planned in detail. After the first day, however, it was apparent that some important work needed to be done before we met again. It was so important that it meant potentially abandoning the Day 2 event until the group had done their work.

Step 1 – Define the problem. In this case, the group wasn’t ready to plan this new program.

Step 2 – Consider the solution. I talked about what I thought was the problem with several wise facilitator colleagues, then I approached the client about not going ahead with the agenda for Day 2 until some prework was completed.

Step 3 – Map out the details of the solution. I suggested some additional resources to them and gave them the option of breaking their contract with me.

Tip: Be willing to be honest in your assessment with your client group and be ready to serve the group by NOT facilitating for them.

Perfect Job #3
Be Calm When the Agenda is Behind

I was asked to work with a team with strong perspectives in a sector with which I was not familiar. It was not clear to me whether this was a good time to have a two day retreat as there were multiple major changes about to occur within the organization that might profoundly alter the mission or composition of this team. We spent multiple days coming up with a detailed agenda. At the beginning of Day 2 we had not been able to cover two major agenda items and in the early morning reflection we lost another 1 ½ hours according to our “perfect” agenda.

Step 1 – Define the problem. We were potentially 4 hours behind in a 16 hour agenda.

Step 2 – Consider the solution. We had chosen a slower pace deliberately and added deep reflection time. This we judged was far more important than anything on our agenda. And, the question we asked ourselves was, “What are the consequences of not achieving some of the products we set out to have them accomplish?”

Step 3 – Map out the details of the solution. In this situation as co-facilitators we checked in during break on where we could shorten up some of the key activities and decided which ones were less essential to achieve. It felt miraculous at the time but it really wasn’t surprising that the team worked extremely hard the rest of the day and achieved everything we had set out to accomplish. In hindsight, we realized that by slowing down the pace of the agenda it allowed them to resolve some key questions in their mind. They then could move very quickly through the remaining agenda items.

Tip: Slow down the process at critical points to help the group power through the agenda more quickly.

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Barbara MacKay

Barbara loves “everything facilitation”. She thinks BIG! She loves working with other facilitators around the globe to create transformational results for client groups. She loves teaching others how to do that. She loves presenting at global facilitator conferences. She loves certifying new professional facilitators. If you also love what process facilitation can do for the world, connect with her – virtually or in person. She believes facilitation processes, used well, will provide the roadmap to a more just and sustainable world.

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