Ken was part of the leadership team at a large public university. And every week, the senior leadership team would meet to discuss “strategic initiatives.” The meetings didn’t bother Ken all that much. What bothered Ken was the complete lack of action after the meetings. No one on the team ever did anything when the meetings ended. Even worse, the meetings never acknowledged the prior meeting and the action items that were supposed to get accomplished during the week that passed. It was like being stuck in the movie “Groundhog Day.” And as a former Marine, it was driving Ken nuts.
Meetings like this are truly a shame. Pretty soon participants are going to start behaving like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. With no obvious accountability, they can do whatever they want. Not show up. Come to meeting in workout clothes. Check Facebook. Eat a bag of chips. Etc…
So how do you ensure a productive post meeting? Very simple. Consider the following prescription:
- Get participants to commit to what they are going to do out loud. There is nothing more effective at ensuring buy-in, accountability and execution than getting a person to announce to the group what he or she is going to do between now and the next time they meet. Dedicate 10 minutes at the end of every meeting to allow each person to say to the group what they are going to do. The other benefit of this approach is that it makes the “avoiders” quite obvious when they have nothing to say when it is their turn.
- Put “Follow-up on Action Items” the first item on the next meeting’s agenda. If participants know you are going to check in to ensure they do what they say they are going to do, it is one more incentive to make sure they get something done. It’s all the more powerful when the accountability is being done in front of the group. Team members want to look prepared in front of their peers. Never underestimate the power of Jr. High peer pressure.
- Assign someone the role of e-mailing a summary list of participants’ commitments. Great meetings have solid post-meeting hygiene. Ensure you are covering all of the bases by sending out to everyone their agreed upon action items. This serves as one more accountability mechanism because now it’s not just talk. It’s in writing.
- Ensure participants actually have time to do what they need to do. In the graduate business school classroom, we professors have a saying that for every one hour in the classroom, students can expect two hours of pre-work. A similar ratio should be true for meetings. You need to allow a minimum of one hour of work time for every meeting hour scheduled (two or more would be a gold standard). If one followed that ratio, we would quickly see that no one should have more than four hours of meetings in a given day. We can dream.
See, I told you. Simple, easy and commonsensical. And yet, how many meetings have this kind of hygiene and accountability? As a leader I was coaching this week said to me, “people like you bring common sense and simple principles. It’s not hard, but somewhere along the line, leaders forget. I guess that’s why you get paid the big bucks.”
The big bucks indeed…