Agenda Management – Follow-up

Having designed a nice, monthly agenda that’s based on a balanced scorecard framework and is recurring (to avoid a constantly-changing grab-bag of topics): what’s the best way to bridge the gap that happens between meetings.

Beyond a regular old-fashioned set of minutes, some people use a device called a strategic action register with the intent to make sure that everyone’s capturing and following up on the key items that came up in the meeting.

Problem is: once you start recording action items, they’re like candies, you just can’t seem to get enough of them and they get added and added and added. Partially this can be because the person recording them doesn’t really have the knowledge or authority to jot down just the critical ones.

Follow-up Items

Action items – like bricks. Photo: D. Bond

This in itself wouldn’t be so bad if there were a mechanism to keep on top of them but they almost implode under their own weight. Nobody except for the recorder seems to pay them much attention. They keep getting carried forward. And forward. And forward.

Then, at the next meeting, they’re either ignored completely – and a whole new set is created – or they’re reviewed as the first agenda item and it basically swamps the whole meeting. Each item requires some kind of status from the “owner” which leads to more discussion, which was probably the same basic discussion that happened last time, and then people start leaving the meeting and it ends without getting to the key issues on the agenda. Everyone’s in a bad mood. Meetings get a bad name.

I’ve found a couple of techniques that work well.

One: Display the action items being recorded as they happen.

People can’t resist watching someone type something. If the interpretation of the action item is off-the-mark, or if the person being assigned the task balks, it can all be nipped in the bud.

Also, if the item is too granular for keeping as an action item, everyone will start to see that there’s no point putting down everything and a balance will emerge between those that are too detailed and those that are pie-in-the-sky.

Two: Capture just the big, juicy items for the minutes – if there are to be formal minutes (in cases of significant projects which could at some point have a review or audit done), but at the same time give yourselves permission not to include them in the agenda of the follow-up meeting.

Treason? Perhaps, but if something is getting behind schedule, it will come out in the discussion anyway simply by having the item owners talk about their overall topic/project status.

It’s better to treat the last meeting’s action items as a kind of “sunk cost” and simply focus on moving forward. That is: What needs to be done now? What impediments are preventing us from getting there? Is it a lack of financial resources, people resources, or governance oversight?

An agenda is meant to be an administrative device to maintain control and momentum against a set of objectives and strategies agreed to by the group. Use it to advantage. Neither let it take over the crucial business at hand by bogging things down, nor let people off the hook.

Use fewer agenda items (of the recurring, balanced scorecard kind) and set up a climate for animated discussion and collaboration to get the job done. Agenda management is something just left to chance.

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