ONE — you need to make decisions.
And TWO, someone must take action based on those decisions.
This decision making and active step-taking is what drives businesses and organizations forward.
Unfortunately, efforts can fall flat if meeting tasks and action items aren’t well managed.
It’s an all-too-familiar problem: a meeting ends, and everyone goes their separate ways.
A week later, the promising ideas have sat untouched, no one’s sure what steps, if any, have been taken, and meeting participants are wondering whether there was something they were supposed to be doing.
How can meeting leaders better manage meeting tasks and action items, ensuring critical next steps happen?
What can they do during a meeting, before everyone parts ways, to keep the momentum going?
Here, we’ll break the answer down into five easy steps.
Without action, do your meetings even matter?
Decision-making meetings without action accomplish little more than wasting team members’ time.
Gathering everyone together for a meeting takes resources and logistics commitments. To make it worth the effort, attendees need to leave with clear action items and an understanding of how their assigned action item helps to reach larger goals.
Action items are the next steps necessary to achieve your goals after a meeting. They can be handled or easily led by a single person, and are typically created when decisions are made in a meeting about how to execute a plan or work towards a goal.
Because action items are created in the midst of a meeting, it’s important for meeting leaders to document them in real-time and ensure they are managed for follow-up. After all, if no one executes on an action item, then the next steps towards a goal are never taken!
When checking off meeting tasks, creating action items, and taking next steps to conquer the world (or whatever your organization’s goal is), keep these guidelines in mind to raise your chances of success:
1. Establish concrete action items.
Action items should be clear and easily understood by everyone in the room, but most importantly by the person being assigned.
If you have enough information to make a decision, don’t put it off to a later date or leave it for someone else to figure out. Instead, make a decision, define clear next steps, and confirm that meeting attendees understand these steps and that action item assignees have what they need to execute them.
The role of each participant towards meeting a goal needs to be clear-cut to avoid confusion and stagnation.
Action items don’t need to be complete SMART goals, but it doesn’t hurt to take a page out of the effective goal-making handbook when it comes to making them. Make action items specific, measurable, and attainable to ensure success.
During a meeting, ask questions like...
“What specifically needs to be done to reach this goal?”
“How will we know we’ve done it?”
"Are the desired results reasonably achievable by someone in this meeting?”
2. Say action items out loud.
This should go without saying, but this tip is important to include. If action items only exist in a meeting leader’s notes, then it’s impossible for anyone to act on them.
Saying action items out loud not only makes it clear to everyone what a task is and who is responsible for it, it also allows for a person or program to fulfill the role of a scribe.
A scribe is responsible for recording meeting minutes, or what is said in a meeting. When a scribe records action items, it makes it possible to share them with team members who couldn’t make the meeting. It also makes them available for everyone’s future reference, increasing accountability.
3. Highlight action items in your notes.
We take so many meeting notes, it’s easy to imagine how action items can get lost among the tasks. Avoid this by putting action items all at the bottom or the top of your notes page so that they stand out from everything else and are easy to find when it’s time to follow up with people.
Some meeting software such as Hugo provide built-in templates with designated areas for meeting tasks and next steps. These templates help with meeting preparation and make it easy to both stay on task and follow up with action items after the meeting is over. Fill them out during the meeting to initiate action item and meeting task management.
4. Assign a person to every action item.
...and a due date, if there is one.
It’s important to do this before the meeting is over, so that participants understand their role moving forward. This assignee may, of course, have help from other team members. However, an action item should be manageable for one responsible party.
The idea isn’t to overload one person with a monumental meeting task for them to delegate to others. Instead, make action items simple enough for an individual to tackle with a little collaboration.
This collaborative enablement, as well as the autonomy encouraged by assigning individuals to action items, is further discussed in our book, 10X Culture.
In it, we describe how Steve Jobs came up with the Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) to solve problems with accountability at Apple. This DRI is the assigned person to a meeting task, and having one helps ensure that action items have clear leaders for efficient completion.
Here's an example of meeting notes where all action items have been assigned as concrete next steps:
Push tasks into the system where you manage your work.
Today’s tech-savvy, productivity-tool rich work environment offers a number of collaborative management systems for businesses and organizations.
Whether your team members use one of these platforms or a more analog method, action items should be immediately pushed to wherever your team tracks projects. This is most effective if the push is a part of the expected workflow associated with running a meeting.
Some meeting software offers meeting task management directly in an app; Hugo does things a little better.
Thanks to these integrations, meeting participants and leaders can create tasks in an organizations’ collaborative systems directly from within their meeting notes. Rather than building a new system, we work with the one you already have. This means that what you do during a meeting follows the team once the meeting is over.
Better Meeting Task Management Means More Productivity
When meeting software is collaborative both in-app and out, thanks to integrations, organizations simply run better.
With meeting leaders and participants able to initiate tasks as soon as they are deemed necessary, tracking their progress and ensuring follow-through after a meeting is over becomes easy.
Ready to take meeting task and action item management to a new level?