Day 1 : ‘Thanks guys, that was a good meeting. I feel like we got a lot of things on the table and made some progress. See you next month’.
Next time the team meets : ‘Haven’t we already had this conversation? I thought we agreed that last time. Why hasn’t anything happened?’
Many of us would love to have the first statement (unfortunately too many of our meetings don’t feel like they have been of value), so it seems like a crime when a meeting that was productive doesn’t lead to productive action.
As Paul Axtell writes in his HBR article ‘Two things to do after every meeting’, “there are a number of reasons why the productive conversations in a meeting seemingly go nowhere. Attendees are often immediately running to another meeting where their attention shifts to a new set of issues. Or people leave the meeting without clarity about what was agreed upon.”
So what can you do about it?
These seem like really obvious things to do, but unfortunately that doesn’t mean they happen!
Quite simply – as soon as you can,
- Send out concise meeting notes and document who has committed to doing what.
- And then follow on the commitments people have made.
If you don’t capture the conversation and put into a form that can be easily retrieved later, the thinking and the agreements can be lost. As Axtell writes : “Here’s what works: Distribute concise, clear notes about the meeting. A single page will suffice for most meetings. This page should summarise the key points and the specific commitments for each topic, so that non-attendees have a sense of what happened and all have a record of who will take further action.”
Axtell suggests these should be written and distributed within 24 hours, if not sooner. This helps send the message that the commitments were important and helps demonstrate a sense of urgency.
Follow up on Commitments
- Before a new topic is discussed, pause to agree on next steps. Identify the specific commitments and document clear deadlines.
- Be mindful of other priorities and allow people to set reasonable deadlines.
- Don’t use the automatic “by the next meeting” as the due date. It is important to think about what timing make the most sense.
- Respectfully communicate that you expect each commitment will be fulfilled as agreed , and request that if something comes up, that they will get in touch to discuss a revised time frame.
- Decide an appropriate person too check in at appropriate intervals to make sure that the commitments will be met or re-evaluated if something unexpected comes up.
People are always complaining about spending too much time in meetings. Working on designing and then running meetings better will help to lessen this problem, as will making sure all commitments from a meeting have been documented and followed up after the meeting. These latter steps will help make future meetings more productive – and maybe even redundant!