I started wearing a wristwatch at a young age – one of those with Minnie Mouse on it (see more about my Disney obsession here). That meant I ended up being the one people would look to when a classroom didn’t have a clock on the wall or we went outside for gym class: “Rachel! How much time is left?” I would proudly announce the time, as my classmates rolled their eyes, hoping time would accelerate to the next bell. In hindsight, my role as the timekeeper started at a young age.

Being the timekeeper is one of the many hats that we wear as facilitators in Innovation Toolkit workshops and is a key element of running any meeting. It’s important to keep participants focused on achieving the goals the meeting or workshop set out to achieve. It also makes the session more predictable, productive, and generates results. It’s helpful to have these times set and shared with participants so everyone can help the day stay on track and cut down on meaningless tangents (we’ve all been there). This is why we always develop an agenda before a workshop.

Here are some steps to developing an agenda for your next workshop or meeting:

  1. Identify the high-level objective for the session and work backwards
  2. Define the activities that will help achieve those goals
  3. Add in filler activities such as introductions, breaks (as needed), meals (if applicable), etc. so that people don’t get burnt out
    1. Providing snacks, caffeine, sugar are also good tips to keep people energized through a marathon session
  4. Rank activities by level of importance in a flow that makes logical sense, such as a tool chain where the input of one activity is input for the next
  5. Allot more time to the more important activities (and less time to less important)
    1. Introductions are probably less important if people already know each other, but you want to make sure you provide people with a bio break at some point during a morning or afternoon session
  6. Break down the larger activities – e.g. Premortem tool – into bite-sized chunks such as explaining the tool, giving people time to work alone, discussing as a group, coalescing around an idea, and identifying next steps
    1. Creating the sub-times will help you to determine how much time each activity needs.
    2. Sometimes we purposely provide less time than the participants need so there is some excitement to continue after the workshop has ended.

Once you’ve developed a draft agenda, be sure to run it by the stakeholders and decision-makers to receive buy-in. Even better if you can design and draft it with them! Having their buy-in will make the session go more smoothly as they are consistently on your side.

Now that you’re in the meeting, here are some tips:

  • Distribute the agenda to participants so they can set their expectations of the day. Before each time interval, let people know where you are and how much time you have for the activity. If there is a larger block of time, provide reminders partway through (“2 minutes left…”) to keep participants aware of how much time is remaining.
  • Oftentimes, it’s necessary to adapt on the fly and adjust to the situation – whether it be a new priority, unforeseen circumstance or a late participant. Keep in mind that changing the agenda on the fly is a constant time negotiation. Every time you say yes to one thing, you say no to something else. In other words, if we pursue this new conversation, what other topic or activity are we sacrificing? Try to have those conversations with the decision-maker and stakeholders beforehand; what can be cut out in favor of a superseding priority?
  • If the conversation veers off track, we recommend keeping a “Parking Lot” of other items to focus the conversation. Let the participant know that what they brought up is important and will be covered later if time allows.
  • Consider using a visual timekeeper on a screen in the room for longer sessions and larger groups so that others can serve as the timekeeper with you.

Many of these tips and recommendations can be repurposed or adapted for regular meetings, from prioritizing objectives and outcomes to (politely) reminding people how much time is left. Keeping meetings goal-oriented and focused will lead to more productive and successful collaboration amongst your team. In an era where everyone is busy, we need to remember that time is not a renewable resource. One of the most common objections to doing Innovation Toolkit workshops is “not enough time” or people being afraid to take a step back for fear of losing time while working towards a deadline. For that reason, we must guard our time fiercely. Don’t forget to wear your wristwatch!