Sunday, January 2, 2011

Make meetings more effective by tracking next steps

A simple way to dramatically improve the effectiveness of meetings is simply to track all the next steps that get agreed to.  While the suggestion may be almost comically straightforward, in my experience the next steps get recorded in only a tiny minority of meetings.  Here are some suggestions to make it work.  These suggestions apply whether the meeting is one-on-one or with a larger group.

1. Assign one person to keep track of all the next steps.  The manager running the meeting might do this herself or she might want to delegate a scribe.  The key is to ensure everyone in the meeting knows who is playing the role of recorder.

2. Record the next steps publicly.  One way to do this is to write them on a flip chart so everyone can see them. Another way would be to directly enter them into a spreadsheet.  If a spreadsheet is used, it could be projected on an overhead.  If not, it is a good idea for the recorder to read it out so everyone agrees on what has been committed to.

3. Record the three basic elements of a next step:
a) What is going to get done
b) Who is going to do it
c) By when

4. Clarify the next step.  The designated recorder should back up the manager to ensure the next step is clear.  The description of what is going to get done should include a statement of what the action owner will do to follow up with others present, e.g., "[Task owner] will identify the root cause of the inventory discrepancy by next Wednesday and report back to [Manager] the correction actions taken and planned."

5. Review the list at the end of the meeting.  As you've gone through the meeting, you have agreed to each next step individually.  Now, as you close the meeting, review the entire list to make sure everyone is in agreement.

6. Send out the list of next steps to all relevant participants after the meeting.  If the next steps were required on a white board or a flip chart in the office, and all participants will be working in that office, then this step isn't required, of course.  It will be simpler to just go up to the white board or flip chart and cross the next steps off as they get done.  But if people will disperse, then send out the next steps in whatever format people are most comfortable with - Excel, Word, Google spreadsheet, whatever.

7. Essential step!  Prior to the next meeting, re-send the list of next steps with a reminder that they will be reviewed.  Tell people to come prepared to discuss them.  Then start the next meeting with a review of the next steps agreed to last time.  Update the list of what has been done and what is still outstanding.  If everyone knows that commitments will be recorded and reviewed, it significantly increases the chance that action will actually get taken.

8. An executive with a wide range of responsibilities can benefit greatly by ensuring that next steps get consistently tracked at all meetings she attends and then collected at a central place, possibly with the help of an assistant.  For example, an owner of multiple businesses or an executive overseeing multiple departments can require that at every meeting, the list of next steps be sent to her assistant.  Then the assistant can consolidate all these lists into a single tracking tool, possibly adding other columns such as the date and location of the meeting at which the next step was agreed to and the relevant department or company.

Next steps tracker

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