In my rush of work recently I failed to follow up a couple of important meetings. Now I’m suffering the consequences because I tried to recall all the key points a month later – and couldn’t.
Both meetings were exploratory with experts in two different fields, and both the experts and myself should have written and shared notes to ensure we were on the same wavelength. This frustration reminded me of some key advice about maximizing the results from meetings: (1) meeting notes and (2) meeting follow up.
Many team leaders and team members form good intentions in a meeting, but lose the momentum afterwards. Expected results don’t eventuate. People often need to head off to their next meeting or next activity, which absorbs their attention on other matters. (I recall one memorable day years ago as corporate affairs manager in a power utility in which my whole day comprised nothing but meetings – about 5-6 wall-to-wall meetings which I couldn’t avoid! At the end of the day I felt I had achieved absolutely nothing. But that’s another story…)
Also, team members depart without being clear on what was agreed upon and the follow up actions.
To keep up the momentum achieved in meetings you should promptly (1) email clear and concise meeting notes to stakeholders and (2) follow up on the commitments made.
1. Meeting notes
You need to write notes from the meeting for later reference. Otherwise the content from the discussion and the agreed outcomes could be lost. You don’t necessarily need to write all the notes on the spot. Recently in a couple of meetings with just one other person I wanted to keep the discussion flowing without my interrupting to write progressive notes. So I wrote my notes of the main points later the same day – and was pleasantly surprised at my recall of the key points.
Meeting notes are important. They keep non-attendees informed about what happened and remind attendees of agreements reached. You can use them to keep everyone on the same page and focused on what you all need to get done before you meet next.
Circulate brief, clear notes about the meeting. A single page will usually be enough. You don’t need to summarize the discussion itself but should note the key points and the related commitments for each topic, so that non-attendees understand what happened and all have a record of who are responsible for follow-up actions.
The notes should outline each topic of discussion and the specific actions that will be taken, by whom, and by when.
Write and circulate the meeting notes as a priority, within 24 hours at the latest. Preferably same day. Your memory of each conversation fades further with each passing hour. Circulating the notes within a day also achieves a good sense of urgency. You can email the notes or print them to hand out.
2. Follow up on commitments
Follow-up is crucial if you want results. Repeated and regular follow-ups are a necessary part of project leadership.
During the meeting, agree on a person who will be responsible for working on each follow-up task. Get them to undertake responsibility in front of the other attendees for completing the agreed work by a due date. This commitment in front of others is a case of Cialdini’s psychological principle of consistency in action. People align with their clear commitments. Even a small commitment can have a powerful effect on people’s future actions. A commitment made verbally or written down in front of others is significantly stronger than an unspoken commitment.
Actions for you to take
- Don’t include agenda items just for information. If they are just for information the items can be distributed separately from meetings.
- When discussion on each meeting topic is completed, agree on the next steps to be taken, who will be responsible for them, and gain their commitment to meet an agreed deadline, which they can negotiate at the meeting in front of the other attendees.
- Reach manageable, specific dates for deadlines, not just ‘by the next meeting.’
- Explain that the people who are accountable for follow-up actions need to deliver as agreed. If a problem gets in the way of meeting their deadline, they need to consult you about it beforehand.
- Appoint a person to contact the individuals who are responsible for taking actions to ensure they will complete their commitments as undertaken or discuss any problems before the deadline.
Recording commitments made and ensuring due progress with follow-up actions will also help make future meetings more constructive.