Imagine this scenario. You hold a meeting to plan the next 3 months of an important project. You hash out some great discussion, make decisions on important factors and divvy up tasks and responsibilities to various people on the team. One week later, your team is scrambling to meet a particular deadline for the project because expectations about who was doing what and by when were unclear or misunderstood. Most of us have experienced this in various situations from client and prospect calls to internal meetings and discussions and it is both frustrating and completely unnecessary!
The problem is one of basic miscommunication – something most of us “mature professionals” are supposed to have mastered by now. When we ask each person to take their own notes, what one person hears or takes away from the meeting may be very different from that of another person. Once the meeting ends, it’s hard to ensure you have accurate recall, genuine agreement or that you and others have a framework to be accountable for the very things you just agreed upon because you don’t have a clear summary for all to review and act on.
At ConvergenceCoaching, we practice a methodology that calls for a written recap of every internal and external meeting – whether in person or by telephone. We email these recaps to our clients and prospects after phone calls or engagements and internally after team meetings. Once we send them, we ask the other parties to review and input anything that needs clarification or may have been missed. Some of the benefits that come from recapitulating the happenings during a meeting include:
- Enabling all parties to have a full understanding of the agreed-upon decisions, actions committed to and by whom, and the by-when dates each person will have them completed by.
- Providing the ability to file the recap and return to it later for a refresher or to recall information. We no longer feel we need to hold the discussion in our memories because we can retrieve the information as needed.
- Keeping people updated who need to stay in the know, but were not able to attend the meeting.
- Offering an opportunity for further discussion as progress is made or things change within the scope by simply replying to the email thread.
Effective recaps summarize the main points and actions of a discussion. They are not a word-for-word transcript of all of the things that were said in the meeting. Here are the guidelines we follow when writing recaps internally and externally:
- Begin the recap with a statement related to the overall purpose of the meeting and mention that the following text is a recap of what you heard. Ask that all parties read it over and reply back, copying all parties on the thread, with any comments or questions that need clarification.
- List the key points and decisions made that are pertinent to the discussion’s outcome. Bulleted lists are extremely effective for brevity and keeping the information clear and to the point.
- Capture tasks and actions that need to be completed. Make sure to bold or highlight the person’s name who is responsible for completing the task and include a clear by-when date for the task to be completed. A by-when date should have a month, day and year. Only specifying “January 2015” can be interpreted as January 1, 2015 by one team member and as January 31, 2015 by another.
- Include the next follow up or meeting dates.
- Include any issues that were raised and deferred but do not require immediate attention.
- Bold and underline text to emphasize certain important notes and increase readability.
By following these guidelines, it becomes easy to create readable and easily understood summaries of important discussions and meetings. The parties are able to pinpoint their required actions and take the necessary next steps to remain accountable for their responsibilities. We are no longer stuck trying to remember what the final decision was related to a certain issue or who agreed to follow up with a specific person about the matter.
And, when you reconvene a follow-up meeting to the one I described in my opening paragraph, you’ll be able to use the recap as the basis to develop the follow-up meeting agenda and you can ask the action owners to report on their status, with confidence that they have had ample notice and time to execute their actions. You’ll be surprised how your projects progress when you deploy the simple, but rigorous discipline of meeting recaps.
How do you and your team ensure that your meetings and discussions are documented? What tips do you have for following up after meetings to ensure they are effective? Please share your ideas with us!