This article was based on episode 021 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Get the mini-guide here or the full guide at Patreon.
As the old saying goes, “if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, did it still make a sound?”
In my work with teams on meetings, our version of this question is:
IF YOU HAVE A MEETING AND NOTHING HAPPENS AFTERWARD, WAS IT STILL A GOOD USE OF PEOPLE’S TIME?
There are times when rich conversations with no decisions or next steps to take are exactly what needed to happen. But that’s really the exception, not the norm. For most meetings, a good conversation is not the desired outcome.
Too often, meetings that are intended to formulate a decision or clarify the next steps result in little, if any follow through. So what can you do about that? Here are 5 approaches to make your future meetings more actionable.
#1: WRAP UP
Before you end the meeting, review the meeting’s outputs. Oftentimes, the conversation runs until the last second and people rush out of the room on their way to their next meeting. It’s no wonder that nothing happens after since the group did not clearly assign or agree to any next steps.
Yes, it’s hard to end a meeting on time, but when you reserve the last five minutes of the meeting for a wrap up, the impact is exponential. Use that time to be specific about what decisions were made and what next steps need to be taken.
By incorporating a wrap up into your meeting, you can also avoid taking detailed notes throughout the discussion. Listening, talking, facilitating and writing simultaneously is challenging. So instead, ask everyone to keep track of any tasks or key information they hear during the discussion. Then, at the end of the meeting, ask everyone to contribute by sharing what they think are the next steps and any decisions that were made. As a group, you are able to determine which suggested tasks are actual next steps.
#2: ASSIGN TASKS AN OWNER
How many times have you sat in a meeting and heard something like, “Let’s get the latest report from Finance before making the final decision,” or “We should run that by someone on the Product Team and see what they think.” Are these truly tasks that need to get done, and if yes, who is going to do them?
There might be an obvious person on the team to do these things, but if their name is not explicitly stated as a part of the task, it is easy to miss or even intentionally avoid taking on that task. Who wants to do extra work, right?
When a statement begins with “It would be great if...” or “We should do this...”, it’s unclear as to whether it's a suggestion or a task.
During a meeting, there are many ideas floated, but not all of them rise to the significance of a next steps. You need to be crystal clear as to what is a true tasks. Too often we expect people to wade through the ambiguity and find the next steps they need to do which often leads to lack of follow-through.
At the end of the meeting, or whenever a true next step has been identified, state who will own that task or ask for a volunteer. Every action item leaving a meeting should have one owner.
If you need to assign the task to someone who is not in the meeting, assign someone who is in the meeting to inform the other person of the task and provide any other necessary context.
#3: WRITE AND CATEGORIZE
Memory is not always a reliable source and often causes more conflict than good. Avoid this unnecessary conflict by keeping a record of the meeting outputs that you can refer back to.
Very few people enjoy reading a long meeting transcript or dozens of unorganized bullet points containing unimportant and irrelevant information. Instead prepare a concise summary that captures capture three things: TASKS, DECISIONS, and LEARNINGS.
Tasks should simply state who will do what by when.
Decisions should be written with all the relevant details, including a bullet point or two explaining the rationale: Why we made this decision over the other options.
Learnings should include highlights or key takeaways from the conversation, specifically information that people might need to know or is important to have on record.
In addition, be sure to input any tasks you’re assigned in a meeting into your regular task management system, whether you are using a project plan, a notebook or an app. Meeting tasks should not be separate from all your other to-dos. When they are, they are more likely to be forgotten.
#4: SHARE YOUR NOTES
Sharing meeting notes helps remind everyone that the outputs of the meeting are important and need their attention. They are especially useful for informing people who did not attend the meeting. Send meeting notes to everyone who attended the meeting and anyone else who needs to be informed too. This could be your supervisor, other team members from your department or colleagues who simply missed the meeting. Consider anyone who might benefit from the information that you have.
Everyone is busy with many responsibilities and priorities. If no one is following up or there are no deadlines to meet, it is easy to push meeting tasks to the bottom of your list, which usually means that they will never get done.
If a meeting tasks needs to be completed, you must check-in on its progress. Follow-up with people individually or as a group. For example, use your prior meeting notes to review any open tasks during the next meeting.
When you approach meetings with the follow-through in mind, you can take steps to make your meetings more productive and actionable. What practices do you have to ensure meeting follow-through?
This article was based on episode 021 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.