The Fine Art of the Follow-Up
It’s easy to see why meetings with no clear objective, too many participants, or an overstuffed agenda are ultimately unproductive. But what about great meetings that go nowhere: meetings where the brainstorming is brilliant, the strategizing is on point, and the synergies are off the charts. And then….nothing. By the time the next meeting rolls around, you and your team are back to square one. It’s a corporate groundhog day scenario and it can be incredibly frustrating for everyone involved. The good news is there’s an easy fix. Put simply, a great meeting isn’t a great meeting unless it has a great follow-up. Here’s how to elevate your follow-up technique, and ensure all the momentum of an effective meeting doesn’t evaporate by the end of the workday.
The Number 1 Rule for Following-Up
The best way to follow-up after a meeting is…to follow-up after a meeting! It sounds basic, but this is one necessary step that’s often overlooked. Make a point of reaching out to your team with a summary of what was discussed and a list of next steps. It can be as simple as that — even a rudimentary follow-up is better than none at all.
Stay on Target
But if you really want to get the most out of your follow-up, your work starts before your meeting kicks off. Make sure your meeting has a tight agenda and a clear objective. Maybe you’re trying solve a client’s problem or efficiently scale up a project — this objective should guide your meeting but it should also guide your follow-up. Meetings can go off-topic but your follow-up should not. During the meeting, pause to agree upon and assign action items. When a meeting’s going well and the ideas are free-flowing it’s tempting not to interrupt, but without agreeing concrete next steps, it’s likely nothing will be accomplished at all.
Assign each action item to an individual rather than a team or department. You might be amazed at the results — if it worked for Steve Jobs, it can work for you too! Jobs famously nominated a DRI (that’s a Directly Responsible Individual in Apple-speak) for every action item that came up in his meetings. And, according to former employee Gloria Lin, people loved this system. ‘The benefit here,’ says Lin ‘is more ownership than accountability. When you feel like something is your baby, then you really, really care about how it’s doing.’ Agree on a timeline for each task, but do it thoughtfully. The traditional ‘by-the-next-meeting’ deadline won’t always work: some tasks will require more time to execute; easy-to-finish or time-sensitive tasks should have a tight deadline.
Fine-Tune Your Follow-Up
After meetings, publish and circulate minutes within 24 hours. Make sure your minutes include action items, broken down into steps or stages where necessary. Each item should have a DRI and a timeline. But your follow-up doesn’t end here: use the coming days or weeks to check-in regularly with your team and ensure action items are on track for completion. While minutes are normally circulated over email, consider changing your medium when it comes to these personal follow-ups. The average worker receives 120 emails a day and a follow-up email can easily get overlooked in a full inbox. Try adding action items to a calendar or task management app. If you’ve used Doodle to schedule your meeting, try using the direct message function to reach out to participants afterward and keep everyone on track. Don’t feel like you’re micro-managing — checking in on ongoing action items is an important part of supporting your team.
Remember the Big Picture
Finally, follow-up on your meetings as well as after your meetings: set time to debrief with colleagues about your meeting processes. What’s working? What needs attention? Is it time to invite fewer participants to your strategy meetings? Are you holding a standing meeting on an issue that would be better handled by a task force? If you’re smart about following-up on meeting style as well as meeting substance, you might just find yourself with a few extra hours in the day to tackle all the action items on your own agenda.
Jessica Miller is an Australian writer currently based in Berlin.