People like to have a sense of structure in their day to day. It creates a sense of control as the unfolding of the day can be recognized and aligned with whatever one expected from the day.
Structure is also there to organize an upcoming moment.
That’s what agendas are for.
Reading the agenda will regularly indicate what the meeting is for. The agendas design tells a different story, it describes how the meeting will be run.
Some agendas will be closely aligned with the topics which are to be expected or with the objectives of that meeting. They tell a story of the preparation done and how much space there will be for other subjects. Most often they are designed for performance and effectiveness. They limit surprises. They invite to stay on task.
Other agendas will be quite general. These are focused on creating an exchange and giving space to information as it may emerge. It is less focused on results than on inviting people to share what they are looking for and what they want to share. They have a less directive and a more bottom-up approach, which will lead to a larger variety of topics.
Both have their reason to be. Which one to choose will naturally depend on what the meeting is for.
Where it becomes questionable is when the agenda is a static one. That is, when every meeting has the same agenda and when it is never questioned.
That’s when meetings start to become rituals. They become a symbol for activity as well as a status symbol. Their purpose has become to remind participants that they are part of a community.
They tell the story, that the meetings are there to soothe an underlying agitation and that the work is done elsewhere.