A Cure for “Failure to Follow up” Syndrome

One of the most frequent complaints I hear about meetings is that there is no follow up to the discussion. The meeting is held, issues are debated, decisions might be made, but once the meeting ends, nothing happens. No constructive action occurs. It almost seems as if the meeting never took place.

So at the next meeting, there is no progress to report, only missed deadlines and lost opportunities. Group members are blamed for being apathetic and irresponsible. The leadership team, if there is one, looks incompetent. Frustration and disenchantment set in. And the unresolved issues need to be reopened…

To reverse this downward spiral, add NEXT STEPS as the last item on the agenda. Do not let anyone leave the meeting until a list is generated with specific commitments about WHO will do WHAT by WHEN.

Time saving time Tip 1: Specify the next steps as they arise during the discussion. Write them on an easel sheet or white board titled Next Steps or ask the person taking the meeting minutes to keep a running list of the “to-dos.” This will make it easier to consolidate and review the list at the end of the session.

Time saving time Tip 2: While you still have everyone´s attention, remember to set the date and time for the next meeting.

“We mean it” Tip 1: Include all this information in the meeting minutes and in the reminders sent out before the next meeting.

“We mean it” Tip 2: Conduct a status update on all the commitments at the next meeting.

“We mean it” Tip 3: Adopt a ground rule that says “Do not commit to tasks that you know you will not complete.”

Reality check: Ask yourself and your team these questions:

  • Do we have a written agenda for every meeting?
  • Are “Next Steps” an integral part of every agenda?
  • Do we leave enough time (5-15 minutes) to review and refine the proposed next steps?
  • Do we get a formal commitment from each person assigned to a task?
  • Do we make those commitments part of the written record of the meeting?

If the answer to some or all of these questions is “no” or “sometimes, the team needs to become more disciplined regarding Next Steps.

If your answer to the Reality Check is “yes, but we still have trouble with accountability,” consider providing more support for those who assume specific responsibilities. Assigning an “accountability buddy” (another member of the group) to stay in touch with each person who accepted the primary responsibility can strengthen team solidarity and increase the probability that the task will get done.

Drastic measures: If “failure to follow up” syndrome persists, STOP HOLDING MEETINGS that perpetuate the cycle of “all talk and no action.”

When good faith efforts to implement these suggestions do not produce significant change, the problem goes deeper than lack of clarity about what needs to be done and who will do it. Take a break. Bring in a consultant. If necessary, dissolve the group. If possible, start again – and from now on be sure to put Next Steps on the agenda for every meeting.