Author: Dina Pataki & Tom Gash

Have you ever had a meeting in which people exchange excellent ideas, but no one takes any action afterwards?  When groups meet a crucial aspect of effective collaboration often gets forgotten: clearly defining key action points and decisions. For example, let’s say my team discusses the need for having more social activities to boost team morale. Everyone starts passionately sharing their ideas, leading to an engaging conversation. Once all 7 of us has spoken, taking up 4-5 minutes each, the 30-minute team catch-up is over, and people run off to their next meeting. Did we arrive at a clear decision on who is going to organise what and by when? Everyone has a different idea about the conclusions and next steps – meaning nothing gets done, and the team needs to wait till the next meeting to nail down the team-building activity.  

If you want to drive your team and organisation further – you need to make sure that everyone knows the decisions made and actions to take by the end of a meeting. 

Follow these 4 easy steps to make sure that meetings deliver results: 

1. Prepare in Advance 

Don’t underestimate the importance of preparing for a meeting. Creating a calendar invite takes just a few clicks: select a time and date, invite some people, type in a quick title and hit send. Although our ability to assemble a group of people so quickly and easily is handy, it often creates a by-product of poorly thought-through meetings. Imagine a scenario where you had to facilitate a workshop for an external client. Would you ever just create a quick calendar invite and show up to the workshop unprepared with no clear goals and activities? Every meeting (external, internal, online or in person) should have a clear end goal in mind, so nobody’s time gets wasted. A good first step is to decide what you are hoping to achieve by the end of your meeting and clearly articulate a purpose statement. Additionally, list all the decisions that need to be made, either in the calendar invite or in separate document that you share with your attendees prior to the meeting.  A clearly articulated decision-list will help you lead a more focused meeting where your attendees know where the discussion is heading and what the end goal is. 

2. Decide How to Decide

Once everybody knows what decisions will need to be made by the end of a meeting, the next step is to establish a clear decision-making process. There are several ways decisions can be made, and it is not always clear how a group will reach one. What happens if half of the team members think the group should do X whilst the other half wants to do Y? Do they need to convince each other? Does the leader make the call? A meeting can feel endless and confusing if no one really knows how they are supposed to reach a decision. This is why it is important that the meeting leader sets a clear and relevant decision-making process. 
Here are some of the ways a group can reach a decision:

  • Consensus: A decision is reached only if everyone agrees with it. 
  • Consent: Not everyone needs to agree with the decision, but everyone should consent to it.  
  • Compromise: A decision should be broadly supported; some might not support the reached decision, whilst others will. 
  • Counting votes: The decision is reached by majority; everyone expresses their preferred option and the one with the most votes will be the chosen option.  
  • Consultation: Everyone can contribute to the decision, but one person will make the final call (usually the meeting leader).  

As a leader, make sure you articulate how you want to reach a decision and how each participant will need to contribute. If you are the decision-maker but you will base your choice on the team’s input, make this very clear from the start. Clarifying expectations will eliminate confusion, leading to more effective decision-making. 

3. Clarify and Summarise

It’s crucial that you spend the last five minutes of your meeting recapping the decisions that were made during the meeting and the actions that need to be taken. As many meetings overrun, the summary discussion tends to fall off the agenda. People wrongly assume that everyone will walk away with exactly the same conclusions just because they attended the same meeting. Research has shown that the way one decodes information can be influenced by a variety of factors. For example, showing how confirmation bias works,  a famous experiment revealed that individuals can read the same text, yet have opposing conclusions, depending on their existing beliefs. Without a clear decision summary, people can have different conclusions of the same meeting, especially if we consider the addition of likely confusing conditions, such as multiple people talking at the same time, connectivity issues in case of virtual meetings and power dynamics. if you want to make sure that attendees have a clear idea on what the group agreed on and what is expected of them, spend the last 5 minutes recapping the decisions made and actions to be taken.   

Extra tip: if you did not reach a decision, even after clearly establishing that as a goal, don’t be afraid to state so. The best way to ensure that you can reach your meeting goals the next time you assemble is to reflect on why it wasn’t achieved. Ask the group: “What could we have done differently to reach a decision?”. The reasons could be plenty, such as:  

  • Key decision-makers were missing 
  • Attendees did not have enough information 
  • Attendees did not have the right information  
  • Lack of time  
  • Lack of clear decision-making process 

By collectively clarifying the issue, the group can reveal what needs to be in place during the next meeting, so you can make the decisions you need to.  

4. Follow UP to not be let DOWN

To make sure no one forgets the decisions made and the actions to be taken, you often need to go the extra mile and follow up with a clear email. List the main discussion points, the decisions made and the actions that need to be carried out. Every action item should have one owner who is responsible for delivery and an agreed deadline. Here is a template that you can use for your next follow-up email: 

Hi Team. Here are the main talking points of our [meeting title] meeting held on [date]: 

  1. Talking point A
  1. Talking point B
  1. Talking point C

These are the decisions made: 

  1. Decision A 
  1. Decision B 
  1. Decision C 

These are the action items to be completed: 

  1. [Name] will do [task] by [date]
  1. [Name] will do [task] by [date]

Having a tangible summary in writing will ensure that everyone has something to look back at in case they got confused about the decisions or forgot what they needed to do. Essentially, the follow-up email would serve as a reference point for meeting participants and for yourself as a leader. It also give people a chance to speak up if they don’t have the same understanding of decisions made and actions people will take. In case of recurring meetings, the group should revisit the action items that were due the next time it assembles, to make sure that everyone is delivering on their promises and nothing is falling through the cracks.  

In summary, here are the key learning points for leading a meeting that creates clear decisions:  

  1. Prepare for your meeting by thinking through what you want to achieve and which decisions need to be made by the end of your meeting. Select your meeting participants accordingly and notify them about the clear meeting goal(s) in advance. 
  2. Create a clear process around how you want to make the decisions and make sure everybody is on board with that. 
  3. Spend the last five minutes of the meeting summarising the key decisions made and the actions that need to be taken with a clear due date.  
  4. Send a follow-up email about the actions and decisions so everybody has a tangible reference point and plan.  

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