Whether you are a manager holding meetings or an employee participating, agendas are an important time-management tool. While agendas help you keep a meeting on-task, they can also minimize opportunities to extend important topics of conversation.
Agendas convey important information to meeting participants, including goals, attendee responsibilities and topics of discussion. When distributed ahead of the meeting, the agenda lets participants plan ahead in preparing materials or ideas on topics. This helps ensure that meeting discussions focus on the most important issues and ideas. Agendas also help meeting leaders maintain structure and keep the meeting from running long, which is valuable for participants who need to return to other important projects as soon as the meeting is over.
One potential disadvantage of a structured agenda is that it often prevents conversations from evolving on a topic that participants deem important. If a meeting goes off the agenda topic -- even if what's being discussed is of great value -- leaders often cut the conversation short so the meeting goes back on topic. A strict agenda may also minimize opportunities to initiate on-the-spot, spontaneous topics during the meeting. This hampers the free flow of ideas that often result in favorable results.