George Lucas Educational Foundation
Schools That Work
School Leadership

Using No-Agenda Meetings Effectively

“No agenda” doesn’t mean “no purpose”—these meetings foster innovation and open discussion among district leaders.

A photograph of people around a conference room table.
A photograph of people around a conference room table.

No-agenda meetings don’t lack purpose. We bring information that is pertinent to others in the district, provide updates on current initiatives, and propose innovative ideas for the group to actively brainstorm. We also use this time to review and refine the district’s multimedia presentations and marketing materials.

Our central office team has weekly no-agenda meetings led by our superintendent, Dr. Mark Benigni. (We also have meetings with agendas, like our larger, monthly elementary and secondary principals meetings.)

The Benefits and Purpose of No-Agenda Meetings

In contrast to meetings with an agenda—which lock participants into a time frame and specific topics—no-agenda meetings provide:

  • Time for open discussion, which fosters creativity, encourages everyone to share, and promotes collaboration and innovation as participants build on each other’s ideas
  • An atmosphere founded on trust that promotes camaraderie and risk-taking
  • A place and time for the team to offer out-of-the box solutions and recommendations to address district issues

Tips on Adopting No-Agenda Meetings

No-agenda meetings work well for small groups. And it’s best if members in this meeting are people who interact with each other frequently.

Consistency in scheduling is important. Our team reserves Monday mornings, when we’re refreshed and before the rigors and challenges of the work week begin. By designating a consistent day and start time, a clear message is sent that no-agenda meetings are an essential component of our district’s improvement efforts. The length of meetings is flexible depending on our conversations. 

Create norms. Informal norms and guidelines add structure to our meetings. Our single expectation is that all team members will be active participants in our discussions and brainstorming sessions.

Facilitate discussion. Our superintendent opens our meetings in one of two ways: He shares topics of discussion or asks who would like to share first. After the discussion gets started, each participant in turn shares the topics they’ve brought with them. Members are not required to come with their own action items, but each person has an opportunity to have the floor. The meetings always wrap up with, “Is there anything else?” Again, this is an opportunity for everyone to bring up things they may not have thought of until they were part of a larger discussion.

It’s important to have a supportive leader. No-agenda meetings work best with a superintendent who values collaboration and empowers team members to design, create, and problem solve in a solution-driven environment. Benigni empowers all of us to make decisions and try new ideas.

Invite stakeholders to join once a month. Representatives from the administrators’ and teachers’ unions—the president and an executive board member—are invited to attend the central office no-agenda meeting each month. Both unions bring topics to these meetings and share feedback gathered from their respective members. The union representatives are invited by our superintendent to kick off the discussion. Discussions are in depth, with both labor and management providing perspectives, input, and action steps. Having union and management meet on a monthly basis in a no-agenda meeting provides a vehicle for communication and assures that all staff are kept abreast of district plans and initiatives.

Success starts with collaboration and innovation. Rip up the agenda, empower your leadership team, and be amazed by their commitment and creativity.

This is part of our Schools That Work series and features key practices from Meriden Public Schools in Connecticut.
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