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How do you make sure meetings produce real action plans?

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Question: "It seems like every meeting we have follows the same pattern: People cover a lot of issues, make a lot of points, and then we walk out thinking, “Um, what actually gets done now?” We really need to buckle down and figure out a way to get everyone to think in terms of setting specific goals that are pursued right away, but it’s tough to control all the meaningless exchanges that make people feel like they’ve contributed but actually take us nowhere. Help!”   — George, Front Office Coordinator

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

KTatley November 22, 2013 at 7:59 am

I understand your frustration – if a meeting doesn’t accomplish anything then you really wonder if it was worth the time. The quick answer is:

Engage & set (ground) rules: Describe the problem, paint a picture about how it’s wasting time and then ask for suggestions from the group. Ensure that these discussions result in the following four things being implemented:

Agenda: Every agenda item must have a purpose. So instead of the topic: “Sales Leads” the topic would be “Sales Leads, purpose: decide who follows up which leads”

Round-up – Assign responsibilities: As you finish each agenda item summarize the discussions especially what was going to be done, by who and by when. Ask the “who” to acknowledge. Sounds like: “John you will follow up with Acme by Tuesday, is that right?”

Minute: Write down each action and distribute these to attendees.

Follow up: Goes without say to follow up the actions to make sure they are done.

Keith Tatley. Founder of
“Make managing easy”


Yvonne Finne July 25, 2013 at 8:08 pm

We found that sending out the agenda and any necessary documents at least 3 days before the meeting gave everyone a chance to get familiar with the meetings’ need. I send everything out on Thursday and the meeting is held on Tuesday afternoon.


Violet July 24, 2013 at 9:30 am

At the start of all our meetings, someone makes three dots on the whiteboard. They have to be filled in with actions to take when we leave the room. Just seeing those empty dots in the beginning gets everyone real focused!


Jaymi July 18, 2013 at 5:18 pm

Below each item on your agenda, add a box labeled “actions” or “tasks”. Then as you address each item you can be sure to remind everyone to designate the next steps and assign the work. Reviewing the last meeting’s agenda at the next meeting and having everyone report on the actions they took can also help. It tends to hold their feet to the fire.


Rita July 18, 2013 at 4:56 pm

Also, on the agenda, we have an item at the end called Action Items. As each “concern” is discussed, the facilitator should wind up the discussion with a summary of what the group decided. If an action is called for (check with Security, order new floor mats, etc.), the facilitator should ask for someone willing to take on that task and set a deadline. After all items have been discussed, the facilitator winds up the meeting with a brief recap of the Action Items determined, who will be responsible for that action and what the deadline is. Whoever is taking notes (or formal minutes) will send out the notes, with the action items and deadlines included, so everyone at the meeting will remember that Rita will check with Security and/or George will research the costs of replacing the old floor mats. At the next meeting, after going over the minutes of the previous meeting, the action items should be reported on – – Rita will report back on what Security advised and George can give information on replacing the floor mats. After those “old” items are taken care of, it’s on to the next item on the agenda.
It also helps if there’s a timekeeper to keep the group on track – – sometimes the sidebars take up too much of the precious meeting time.


Jennifer July 18, 2013 at 4:56 pm

I totally agree with Karen. Since we started using an agenda everyone is much more focused.

I also use this technique: since I keep the minutes, I will use that as an “excuse” to keep things moving along. I will say something like “Let me make sure I have this correct for the minutes: We are having xyz issue with abc. We have identified 123 as the possible solutions/what possible solutions have we identified?” Then, “Let me make sure I’ve got this down. Michael is going to do x to address the issue with abc.” Then, when I type the minutes, I hi-lite action items so everyone is reminded of their part. When we get ready to meet again I make sure all previous action items are followed up on as part of the agenda.


Karen July 18, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Do you use agendas at your meetings? You should make an agenda and stick to it. Be sure to list something like “Next Steps” near the end so actual implementation of a process will be discussed.


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