We are often asked about putting time limits on items when constructing agendas. Many committees depend on these limits to keep the agenda moving.
When we do agendas, we rarely use time limits. We have had very few committees that need them in their meetings. They also can prevent committees from adequately discussing issues.
Time limits are completely artificial. At best, they are guesses about how much time someone thought an item would take (or how long they thought they could stand an item). The problem arises when the time limit is reached without a resolution to the item.
When time has expired, the committee has to determine its options. Should they stop discussing the item and move it forward to the next agenda without resolution or try to make a decision without all information and without reaching consensus? Often, they decide to add more time to the item. This causes problems in deciding what arbitrary amount of time should be added to the now exceeded arbitrary time limit. They also need to decide which later items should be shorted to provide the extra time, setting up further problems when that item is considered.
We have seen teams get into heated, prolonged discussions about whether to add time and how much to add, further contributing to time problems and adding to conflict. This all can be avoided with better meeting planning and facilitation.
Three major reasons for time limits are discussions that bog down or get off track, too many items on the agenda, and inability of the team to make decisions. Each of these can be resolved without the use of time limits.
Discussions on items bog down – The job of a facilitator is to keep meetings moving effectively and efficiently. They monitor the discussion to provide everyone the opportunity to offer their viewpoints without rehashing what has already been said. A facilitator makes sure the discussion stays on the topic. They may use a parking lot to keep record of other items that come up during the discussion.
If the facilitator realizes the committee is not likely to resolve the item at that meeting, they can determine why and help develop a plan to move the item forward. It may be necessary to gather more data, bring in others to offer their expertise, or allow members time to develop other options for the next meeting. The facilitator will not allow the item to be dropped. Instead, they will help the team develop an action plan for their resolution.
This is part of the reason we encourage all teams to have a facilitator. When difficult issues arise, even the best teams may need help.
In a future blog, we will look at other time problems and alternatives to time limits on agendas.