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Accountability Equals Meeting Success

by Kevin Eikenberry

The group was working well together, but between one meeting and the next, too many 'action items' were left hanging in the air...How do team players ensure that great ideas and important decisions don't fall by the wayside?

Leslie was the new manager of the group. She was replacing Tom, a well respected manager who was retiring. Once she arrived, she made it one of her first priorities to sit down with everyone on the team and get to know them.

Beyond pleasantries, though, she wanted to get to know each individual, what they saw as their goals and objectives, and how they thought she could help them. As she started having these meetings some common themes came out—not about the individuals so much as about the team overall.

She learned that the team liked each other and had a good level of trust. She learned that they were viewed as being a pretty good team (which was her observation from the outside too).

Beyond these good things, she learned there was some frustration because people didn't feel others always were accountable to the team. She didn't get any specifics initially, but the picture got clearer quickly once she called her first team meeting.

Tom had always had staff meetings, and Leslie thought they were a good approach for any issues as well, so she continued the team "tradition".

She even asked George to facilitate the first meeting, allowing the group to use their standard meeting process. Leslie felt that would ease the transition and she would get a chance to learn more about how the group functioned if they operated within their comfort zone.

The only change Leslie suggested was to take a few minutes at the end of the meeting to share feedback on how the meeting went. Leslie felt this would give the team a chance to review their process and would be a good chance for her to implement some changes with their commitment.

The meeting went pretty smoothly by all accounts; by all accounts, that is, except Leslie's.

She shared with the team that she was concerned that too many action items from previous meetings seemed to still be pending. She cited several times in the meeting where something came up that led to discussion as to who had been responsible, and it wasn't clear. She also mentioned times when things were clearly assigned to someone but they hadn't yet been completed.

After sharing these comments she looked around the room and saw by nods and body language that people agreed. She paused to see if anyone would speak up.

Emma, one of the newer members of the team said, "It has been that way as long as I've been here, but we still are doing well, I mean, we get things to customers on time."

Howard agreed, but added wryly, "We meet our deliverables, but sometimes with a lot of sweat—plus some of the good ideas we had earlier in the process never seem to get done."

George, who had facilitated the meeting, summarized the other unspoken thought, "All meetings are like that—good ideas come up but they don't all get implemented. We are just too busy for it to be any other way."

If you were Leslie...what would you be thinking...and what you do?

The situation that this team faces happens everywhere. As a consultant I have sat in meetings where this occurred. I have led workshops for meeting facilitators and had people lament this situation too.

This situation can be solved, with 4 simple steps.

4 steps to greater meeting accountability

1. Capture the ideas. As a meeting progresses and action steps are identified, they must be captured. Write them down on a flip chart, whiteboard or someone's computer (preferably connected to a projector so all participants can see the list). Leave room to the left of the action ideas for two more columns.

2. At the close of the meeting, ask the responsibility question of each action idea, "Who is going to do it?" If there is an obvious person to do this or if someone volunteers, place their name in the second column of your action item list. If no one volunteers, make sure the group still thinks this is an important item. If it is, a name will surface. If not, consider striking the item from the list.

3. Fill in the final column with the 'When' question—"When can you complete this?" Allow people to assign dates with the whole group making sure the dates for all of the items make sense when looked at collectively.

4. Commit to making a review of the Action Items the first agenda topic in each following meeting. Go over each item on the list, asking people for a status report, marking off completed items and assigning new completion dates as needed.

At your next meeting, you will have a few more items done than you might have in the past, but there won't necessarily be that much improvement. Don't fret or give up. Stick with the process.

The end result?

You will find that within 2–3 meetings, most items will be done, or they will be reassigned or more accurate and realistic timelines will be assigned to the items.

Not only will more items be done, but the team will feel a greater sense of accomplishment and accountability.

This simple process takes into account several truths about human behavior, not the least of which is peer pressure. After all do you want to be the only one who han't completed their action items?

©2004–2005, All Rights Reserved, Kevin Eikenberry.

Kevin Eikenberry is the President of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a learning consulting company that helps its clients reach their potential through a variety of training, consulting and speaking services. Contact Kevin toll-free at: 888.LEARNER or e-mail to:


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