You have finished one meeting and you are running to the next. When you finally return to your desk, all the meetings seemed to have passed in a blur. Most often, what is discussed in the meeting room stays there. Attendees may not be clear about tasks assigned and their due dates or priorities may shift during the week. These are only some of the reasons that a follow up routine cannot be established. A lack of follow up can lead to significant losses in time, money, talent and energy. A successful meeting needs follow up. Here are some techniques you can use to follow up and ensure that your meetings are productive and work gets done.
Why Doesn’t Action Item Follow-up Happen?
Effective follow-up begins with your meeting action items. If you would like to become an effective task manager, then dig deep into your action items. Here are the problems you may encounter.
Team members don’t agree on action items
Get someone on your team to be a facilitator. This can improve participatory decision making and achieve consensus.
No Accountability for Action Items
No one feels responsible for the action item, sometimes even the person to whom it is assigned. Another problem arises with recurring tasks during a project. Recurring tasks should be assigned to a single individual for the entire project until he transfers his responsibility. The challenge here is to get everyone to do what they promised.
Action items are Forgotten
Use reminders, sticky notes or a task board to prevent action items from slipping into oblivion. Or use an online project management tool to manage items on your action plans. Ensure that it has built-in reminders to keep you on track.
Ambiguous Action Items
Most action items do not follow the SMART model The level of progress cannot be accurately determined if the action item is vague. Something tangible has to happen- a change in behavior and triggers that can help achieve this change.
Teams play the blame game
The blame game becomes a convenient way to avoid responsibility and shift the focus to another person on the team. Leaders can counteract this behavior by increasing focus on “you” and not “others”
Too many Action items
Defining too many action items can result in low productivity. And, often the most important action items are neglected in lieu of others. This happens due to a lack of prioritization. Focus on three important action items at a time to get more done.
Next up, how do we tackle these problems? Here are some techniques you can use to follow up and ensure that your meetings are productive and work gets done.
Follow Up Techniques to Use During the Meeting
Capture Meeting Minutes
Things change, memories fade and work stalls. Counter this problem by capturing meeting notes that clearly define action items. This is the first step in ensuring effective follow up. Write effective meeting notes collaboratively and review the meeting goals and outcomes at the end of the meeting. The meeting minutes not only serve to remind those who attended the meeting but also inform those who have missed the meeting. The meeting minutes should summarize the topics discussed, meeting outcomes and the action items with due dates and to whom they have been assigned.
Define Action Items
The easiest way to follow up is to define action items in clear and concise terms. There may be confusion about which decisions to turn into action items. Also, there may be some action items that need not be completed right away. Spend the last five minutes of the meeting to decide what action needs to be taken and in what order of priority. Reach a consensus on due dates for each action item. To get your team to follow through, you can use this phrase ‘Do thing X by time Y or call’. Due dates should be decided based on what is best for the project. Do not automatically set it to the date of the next meeting.
Image credit: Full Function
Assign an Owner for Each Action Item
Apple assigns responsibility for action items to the Directly Responsible Individual or DRI. This person is responsible for the task and follow up. This brings in clarity and you can avoid the blame game. When input from many people is required to complete an action item, it is good practice to assign only a single owner. Not doing so may lead to confusion and work and effort may get replicated. Don’t assign action items to those not present during the meeting, as you will have to spend time explaining from scratch and due dates cannot be decided. Instead, assign a person to communicate the task to the absent owner.
Assess Risks Involved
Once an owner has been assigned for an action item, spend a few minutes understanding the problems that may prevent completion. This may seem like a lot of work, but it can help formulate contingency plans and additional resources that may be required to complete the task.
After the Meeting
Share Meeting Minutes
A clear summary of what was discussed must be shared within an hour, after the meeting. To ensure effective follow up, share the notes within 24 hours. The notes must be easily accessible so that everyone stays focused on action item completion. These notes also serve as a record of what transpired during the meeting-decisions, agreements and learning.
Get All Action Items in One Place & Check-in
Get all action items from the meeting into the team’s list. The team stays on track and there are lesser chances of action items being ignored or forgotten. Keep checking on the progress of action items via email or chat. You can also spend the first few minutes of the next meeting to follow up on the status of action items, Compute the rate of completion of action items, that is, action items completed against the total agreed upon action items. This will serve to motivate the team to do more.
Communicate if Priorities Change or Problems Arise
Create an open communication system so that everyone on the team is comfortable sharing information. They should be able to share why agreed upon commitments were not honored. Urgent matters may have come up or there may be other obstacles. Whatever the reason, keeping the team informed is important.
Effective follow up eliminates unproductive meetings and as more tasks get completed, future meetings may even become unnecessary. As you move closer towards achieving set goals and objectives, there is a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Follow up is not just a routine, it is the key to establishing high-performance teams.