At Leadership Strategies, we recommend that your meetings – especially complex ones like strategic planning efforts – include three distinct “parking boards”: 1) the issues list, 2) the decisions list, and 3) the action list. Let’s focus on the action list – the list that captures action items to be taken following the meeting. Do you use action lists? When we first meet with clients who need professional facilitation services, we typically begin by asking them whether or not action lists existed in the last few meetings they conducted. You might be surprised at the answer.
We found that a significant number of responses were along the lines of, “Action lists – not sure we do that.” Then, for those who do indicate that they use them, we then inquire how their follow-up method occurs for their action lists. Again, another surprise – more indicate that no follow-up happens, making the action list completely useless. “Oh, we don’t do that,” or “Everyone just is responsible for their actions,” – answers we hear.
So, action lists: fact or fantasy? Why create them if there is no follow-through? This is a dilemma we frequently hear from clients, and it’s one of the critical pitfalls of strategic planning – no execution of actions and no commitment after the meeting happened.
One of the key points about including action lists in every meeting is to create a cadence of accountability. It is to ensure those items that were agreed upon be accomplished, get assigned to the right people, and receive commitment to a target date for completion. Below is a simple example of an action list with some best practices for using the action list effectively as taught in our four-day training, The Effective Facilitator.
Guidelines for Making Your Action List ACTIONABLE:
- RECORD. Any time someone in the meeting is assigned or offers to take on an assignment, place it on the action list. If you are a participant in a meeting and you hear someone offer to take on an action that the meeting leader does not record, simply ask a question such as, “It sounds like someone just committed to doing something. Should we take a minute to write that on our action list and then get back to the topic under discussion?” That is helping the meeting leader to avoid missing a commitment.
- REVIEW. Ensure all action items are confirmed as a part of the close of the meeting. This makes the closing and review portion of the meeting so critical. Also, be sure that “the what, the who and the when” are all identified and included in the action list.
- DELEGATE APPROPRIATELY. Only participants in attendance in the meeting should be assigned to an item on the action list. Participants may delegate the action, but they are still responsible to report the status of that item in future meetings. This ensures commitment to the action by the people that were a part of the discussion.
- REPORT. In subsequent follow-up meetings, include a review of all actions that have fallen due since the last meeting are reviewed and updated. There is no reason to review every action – only those whose target dates have past. When an action item is not completed by the assigned target date, do not erase the date. Instead, simply add a new date above the original target date so that visibility is not lost to items that are not getting completed.
- RECOGNIZE. Consider some recognition for people that accomplish their actions and some type of penalty for those that do not.
The difference between a good meeting and a great meeting is not attributed to just a single thing done 100% better – it is due to the many little things that are each done just a little better to make your meetings move from good to great. Try these practical tips to move your action lists from fantasy to FACT!
Practice and learn more in The Effective Facilitator.
Richard is a Certified Master Facilitator and Director of Facilitation at Leadership Strategies. In addition to leading the development and training of Leadership Strategies’ core team of facilitators, Richard’s specialty areas include facilitation training, strategic planning, process improvement, information needs analysis, and issue resolution.