It’s 11:50am. You hear your stomach growling for lunch, while your participants hear the sound of your voice wrapping up what was a very long, hard-worked meeting. As you speak, you see your group mentally inch toward the door, and you’re with them. You get it. The very thing you want to do is quickly close the meeting and head to lunch, your next meeting, or wherever your calendar requires you to be. But, that’s the last thing you should do. Why?
Because there are false assumptions made about what happens when the meeting is (supposedly) over leading to action items slipping through the cracks, missed deadlines, and unproductive meetings – perhaps, even an unneeded repeat of the meeting that you just had! That’s why you – being the smart facilitator and leader that you are – should be mindful of what to do when the meeting ends so that all of the productivity wasn’t wasted. Remember – time is money.
Here are three reasons NOT to end your meeting (yet) and some quick tips on how to facilitate through them for an effective close.
Reason #1: The participants do not know what was accomplished in the meeting.
Even facilitators who use the best engagement strategies to keep the group focused throughout the meeting will still have participants who leave without complete awareness of what was achieved. Especially in a large group or meetings that require multiple hours or days, it is easy for you to have a few participants who simply checked out and don’t realize the products or outputs of the meeting – outputs that may have huge impacts on people outside of the meeting!
At Leadership Strategies, we teach our facilitators to first review the activities completed during the meeting before the group walks out the door. The review provides the team with a focused reminder of all that was covered in the meeting. There are benefits to doing this – one, you get everyone on the same page about what happened and what was accomplished. Two, this is a good team building tactic. By going through what was accomplished, your group will feel a sense of fulfillment from all of the efforts and energy put forth in the meeting!
One way to review the activities completed in the session is to step through the agenda, item by item. A different way, and our recommended approach, is to “walk the walls.” If you have posted flip charts of information created during the session, you can review the work done by walking around the room, pointing out the results of each step in the process. This review typically takes 2-3 minutes.
Reason #2: Your participants are not on board with the decisions made in the meeting.
This seems like a no-brainer, and yet, meetings still adjourn without any time allotted to review critical decisions made. The U.S. government shutdown is a timely and prime example of why consensus is key. Ask any member of Congress or plan engineers involved in the struggles of re-opening the U.S. government. You need your participants on board with the decisions made throughout the session so that you don’t have group members leaving disgruntled and mentally (or emotionally) removed from efforts that need to take place after the meeting.
We train our facilitators to use “parking boards” to track important information:
- The “decisions list” – identified decisions or recommendations made by the group during the session
- The “issues list” – included topics that need to be discussed later in the session or entirely outside the session
- The “actions list” – documented actions to be performed sometime after the completion of the session
At the end of the meeting, review all three parking boards, starting with the decisions list.
The goal of the decision review is to remind the team of the decisions that have been made. In addition, you can use this review to strengthen the commitment to action, identify potential issues, and develop strategies for overcoming those issues.
Smart facilitators use different methods for reviewing the decisions list. Our course, The Effective Facilitator, teaches these methods for decision reviewing and consensus building.
Reason #3: Your participants do not understand the next steps.
Ever leave a meeting knowing what the next steps are but not having any clue on WHO is responsible for them? Recall the “actions list” mentioned above. The actions list contains activities to be performed some time after the completion of the session. As part of the closing process, the team should confirm that each action still needs to be done, assign a person to take responsibility for the action, and have that person establish a date by when he/she will make sure the action is accomplished.
The actions list should be a three-column chart with the columns labeled:
Action | Who | By When
Consider the following steps in processing the actions list:
- Review all actions to ensure everyone is aware of all the actions on the list.
- Prior to making assignments, remind the group of the following guidelines:
- Accepting an assignment does not mean that you have to complete the assignment yourself; it only means that you are responsible for making sure that the action gets completed.
- Assigning an action to someone not present in the room is not appropriate; that person may not feel committed to take the action or completely understand the action needed.
- If the action is better performed by someone outside the room, assign the action to a person of authority in the room whose responsibility is to delegate the action to the appropriate person and follow up to ensure that it is accomplished.
- Ask for volunteers for each action or have the team select a person.
- Ask the person to establish a date by when the action should be completed. Having people assign their own dates helps build commitment to meeting the target.
These three reasons indicate that the attentiveness and thoroughness to closing a meeting is just as important as everything else that went into the meeting. If you spend a good amount of time preparing for a meeting or utilizing effective engagement techniques to keep your meeting focused, then, realize the importance of ending meetings. Allocate enough time on your agenda for the “Review and Close” part. Don’t let your meeting be over ‘til it’s really over.
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.