You’ve just had what you think was a great meeting in which you and your team achieved the meeting objective. A couple weeks later, you’re chatting with team members when you realize no progress has been made on the meeting outcomes. How frustrating - perhaps that meeting was not as successful as you thought.
In this all too common scenario, the team suffers from ineffective meeting follow-through. Getting clear on the details of which team member is responsible for which action item by when - and following up on progress - can make or break the long-term success of your meetings and your organization. Conversely, lack of clear meeting follow-through can cost you and your people time, money, and energy.
To improve follow-through on meeting decisions and action items - and thereby to exponentially increase the impact of your meetings - follow these strategies during and after every meeting.
Effective meeting follow-through begins during a meeting
The first step to facilitating effective meeting follow-through is to ensure team members leave each meeting with clear next steps. Take these actions while a meeting is still in progress.
Humans will be humans: memories blur, people get busy, priorities change. What’s the best way to deal with this reality? Capture meeting notes that highlight decisions and action items. Assign a meeting note-taker to take collective meeting notes or review key outcomes at the end of a meeting and quickly build the shared meeting notes together. These meeting notes become the foundation for managing follow-through going forward.
Lack of meeting follow-through can occur when a decision that requires new actions is not transformed into tasks. To address this, allow 5 minutes at the end of a meeting to decide as a team how to transform a decision into a next step. Ask, “What actions do we need to take as a result of this meeting decision?”
At the end of a meeting, ask team members to commit to unassigned action items and add a reasonable due date. Say something like, “Who would like to take on this task?” and after someone commits to it, ask him or her, “What’s a feasible time frame to get this done?” Help task owners choose a due date that balances the urgency of the task with their other priorities.
Don’t assign tasks to team members who are not present in a meeting because: 1) they need to be brought up to speed on meeting outcomes, and 2) you don’t have their commitment to completing the task. Instead, assign someone present in the meeting to communicate the task to them. For example, if Oscar is absent but needs to take ownership of a meeting outcome, assign Valerie the task of relaying this to him. This strategy keeps an absent team member informed of meeting outcomes so this person can follow-through on work.
When a task is to be completed by more than one person, it can seem easier to assign multiple people as owners. Resist this urge. It’s better to assign one owner to take the lead. This eliminates role ambiguity and prevents a task from not getting done, or maybe worse, getting done by multiple team members in different ways and wasting a lot of people’s time.
If multiple people need to complete the task individually, like an after-action review or adding comments on a shared document, then it’s fine to assign it to each person.
Effective meeting follow-through extends through to the next meeting and beyond
Once a meeting officially concludes, the focus turns to holding everyone accountable for completing their assigned tasks. If you do not, you risk losing the gains you made during the meeting.
Email meeting notes within 24 hours of the end of the meeting to participants and any stakeholders who were not present. Store notes in an easily accessible location like a shared Google Doc or an online system like Meeteor. This helps keep everyone on track and provides a record to assess follow-through. As meeting notes accumulate over time, you create a valuable knowledge base for your organization of prior tasks, decisions, and learnings.
Meeting tasks are no different than any other tasks. Transfer your meeting action items to your ongoing task list or use a system like Meeteor which does it for you automatically. Keeping all your tasks in one place keeps you more organized and increases your chances of successfully completing them.
Before every meeting, team members should create a habit of reminding themselves of the status of action items that were assigned to them in a prior meeting. A team leader can include this step as pre-work in a meeting agenda or remind team members via chat, email or a shared task management system. It’s important for all team members to know that tasks from meetings matter.
As company priorities change, individual action plans must adapt accordingly. Be transparent about company goings on and communicate shifting priorities with your team. Discuss the impact of changes on work loads. The same goes for each individual. As your personal workload shifts or a project evolves, be sure to communicate with your team if a task from a meeting is no longer relevant.
Effective meeting follow-through is a continuous process
By paying deliberate attention to action items during and after meetings, you’ll improve your meeting practices, accomplish results, and move your team towards high performance.
How does your team handle meeting follow-through?