I’m sure you’ve been there: in the middle of some endless meeting you promised to send an email or make a call or check some facts. By the time you returned to your desk, your main concern was “what am I having for lunch?” – and the details of the meeting had already become fuzzy.
Then at the next meeting, someone asked, “So, did you make that phone call?”
Or perhaps you’re not the one dropping the ball. Maybe you’re the frustrated person chairing a meeting full of people who keep saying that they’ll do something and never getting round to it. (If you’re on a volunteer committee of any sort, this might sound all too familiar.)
So how can you ensure that you follow up action points from meetings – and that other people do as well?
- Keeping Yourself On Track
You won’t need to use all of these techniques, but implementing two or three of them should ensure that post-meeting actions never slip your mind again.
- Take Notes
- Even if someone else is taking the minutes of the meeting, make sure you’ve got paper and pen handy. Jot down notes of anything that’s especially relevant to you – and definitely include everything that conceivably requires action from you.
I tend to put a big asterisk in the margin of my notes against action points, so that I can easily find them after the meeting.
- Put Items Straight In Your Diary (or Task List)
If you use a paper diary, take it to the meeting with you, and put any time-bound actions straight into it there and then.
If you have a wall calendar, or an online diary that you can’t access from within the meeting room, then make sure you put any dates and deadlines into it straight after the meeting: as soon as you get back to your desk or, in the case of volunteer meetings, as soon as you get home.
- File Your Notes Safely
Do you ever end up with meeting notes in all sorts of odd places – scraps of paper, notebooks, jotters? Come up with a consistent way of filing your notes; it could be a series of folders or files, for instance, or one single notebook for each different type of meeting that you attend.
If you lose your meeting notes, there’s little hope that you’ll remember everything that you were supposed to be doing as follow-up.
- Keeping Others On Track
However well organized you are, other people can cause chaos through their own lack of organization. If you’re the chair or a secretary at a meeting, you can help to increase the chances that other participants really will go ahead and do the things they’ve committed to.
- Be Clear Who’s Taking Action
Have you ever been in a meeting where some great idea was proposed, everyone agreed … and no-one took responsibility for it? This is a sure-fire way to ensure that nothing gets done! If you’re chairing a meeting, or even if you’re just a regular participant, don’t let the meeting move on to the next agenda point before it’s clear who is going to carry out an agreed action.
In some cases, you’ll also want to get an explicit agreement on when action will be taken by – eg. “by the next meeting”.
- List Actions in the Minutes
There’s no one perfect way to take minutes, but if you want to help people with their meeting follow-up, good practice is to make it very clear what actions were agreed, and who is responsible. You could do this by:
- Starting a new line with the word “Action” and a name in bold type, after any point where action was agreed
- Putting a list of participants and “Follow up actions” at the top of the minutes
- Highlighting any action points on each member’s individual copy of the minutes, before distribution
- Distribute the Minutes Promptly
Get the minutes circulated as soon as possible after the meeting, and add a note encouraging people to read them straight away to check up on any actions they should be taking. If you’re circulating minutes by email and there’s a long gap between meetings, you might want to send them again a day or two before the next meeting – it’s easy for messages to get buried in packed inboxes.
- Email or Phone People
If you really want to ensure that people take action, then follow up with them individually. Drop them an email to check up on progress, or make a phone call. Obviously, the extent to which you can do this depends on your relationship to them: if you’re their boss, chasing them up is fine; if you’re just another Joe at the local horticulture club meeting, it might seem pushy or annoying.
Do you have any tips for following up after meetings – whether at work or as part of a voluntary or community group? How do you encourage others to stick to their commitments?