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Meetings are a mainstay in business -- they prompt decisions and actions. The most productive meetings manage action items without taking time away from other important agenda topics. If actions aren’t managed properly, valuable time can be wasted discussing tasks that don’t get completed, fail to meet the intended goals or bring no value to the organization. Effectively managing action items through to closure starts with accurately capturing them in the meeting minutes.
Define tasks clearly, leaving no room for misinterpretation. Restate the action as it is being documented to make sure meeting attendees agree with and understand what is expected. Assign the action to someone who is present in the meeting, and get that person to verbally acknowledge responsibility. A poorly stated action item assigned to someone who was not present when the issue was raised could stay open indefinitely.
Use a standardized format for recording meetings, with a section laid out specifically for an action items list. Keeping the format consistent helps to ensure issues are captured properly to allow for efficient follow-up. Record what must be done, who is responsible for making sure it happens, the date the issue was raised or the action was assigned, and the date the action is expected to be completed. For each task, have a primary owner and a backup person assigned -- the backup can serve as a collaborator for the primary owner and support the task if called upon.
Don’t wait too long to distribute meeting minutes. If someone takes electronic notes during the meeting, the minutes can be ready for distribution as soon as the meeting closes or shortly thereafter. Lengthy delays can cause attendees to lose the sense of immediacy. More recent action assignments can then take on greater priority than those issued during your meeting.
Use the action items list to track assignments based on the due dates identified. If the meeting was part of a regularly scheduled series, start the next meeting with a review of open actions. Inform attendees in advance so they can prepare any necessary presentation materials for reporting progress. If the meeting was a unique or standalone session, follow-up with action owners individually or in a new meeting focused exclusively on tracking actions to closure.
If due dates are missed or actions reported do not meet expectations, make these facts visible to team members. Redistribute the action items list, including written comments that clearly explain what caused the delay, why the action was considered insufficient, and what must be done to get back on track. If management assistance is needed to remove roadblocks, schedule time with the appropriate members of the management team to provide a concise summary of both the problem and the team’s recommended solution.
When an action is completed, update the action items list by identifying the date the issue was closed. Redistribute the list to team members so they can see what actions were closed and when. After everyone has seen the closed items, remove them from the list. Closed items can be archived or deleted, depending on the needs of the team or the expectations of management.
A careers content writer, Debra Kraft is a former English teacher whose 25-plus year corporate career includes training and mentoring. She holds a senior management position with a global automotive supplier and is a senior member of the American Society for Quality. Her areas of expertise include quality auditing, corporate compliance, Lean, ERP and IT business analysis.