The meeting is ending without a hitch. All of your team members made it on time, and you've covered all of your talking points. You nail the closing, and you're feeling great about all the productive insights you and your team just pulled out. Everybody goes back to their desks to finish up the rest of the workday.
Didn't you forget something? You were supposed to identify and clarify the next steps to be taken by everyone! You forgot to assign tasks, delegate projects, set goals and share what you were going to do about the discussion topics you just covered. Failing to share clear next steps almost entirely defeats the purpose of a meeting -- but don't feel bad. It happens to the best of us.
Here are several things to ensure that you don't let people leave meetings without clear next steps.
Only Meet When You Absolutely Need To
Meetings are often abused and overused. There are times when you need to meet with your team and other times when information can be conveyed by different, more efficient means. Your job is to determine when a meeting is actually needed.
You don't necessarily need meetings to assign and delegate tasks. If there are decisions that need to be made as a team, that's a whole other matter. If you need to come to an agreement on certain topics as a group, then you may need to organize a meeting. If something can't be decided via email or Slack, then chances are it probably requires a meeting. If it requires multiple thinking caps or the need to collaborate, a meeting should be in order.
Reduce Open-Ended Discussions
Open-ended discussions can be momentum killers and detractors. There may be some topics that lend themselves to an open forum, but if you lose the structure of the meeting, your tendency will be to forget where you were and what you need to cover next.
Odds are, you're not going to arrive at meaningful conclusions and solutions if the discussion is too open-ended. The key, however, is to find a balance between being too open-ended and too closed. If you're too closed, you may risk coming across as standoffish, which damages the culture. Leave room for flexibility and open input, but remain on task and within the right framework of discussion. A good way to balance this is by looking at the task at hand with big-picture thinking, but don't be too abstract or too off-topic. Essentially, make sure to create context for all of your talking points.
Take Notes and Identify Next Steps
It's amazing how many people spend their entire days in meetings without ever taking any notes. What exactly do they hope to take away from the meetings? Do they have any plans of getting anything productive done afterwards?
If you're not in the habit of taking notes, it's time to start a new habit. If you're tracking the meeting, you won't forget to share next steps with your team members. Sending a follow-up message with a summary of the meeting will remind your team how the meeting started, where it went, and ultimately what you want the results to be. Keep good track of your meeting notes -- and be sure to share them with the team afterwards so everyone's in the loop, even if they weren't physically present at the meeting.
Always look for next steps as you are taking notes. While it is worthwhile to identify steps when still preparing for the meeting, the content of the meeting has an impact on what needs to be done next. For example, Jim already finished the project you were going to ask him about and therefore, you need to adjust what you thought needed to happen. Practice active listening and remain open to revising steps as you listen to your team.
Don't forget -- it's not just a matter of identifying and sharing next steps. You also need to make sure they are clear! If employees don't know whether or not they're supposed to work on a particular project, odds are they won't. Sometimes, they won't even ask follow-up questions because they may be intimidated or scared of looking stupid. Communicate well, delegate tasks to the right people, and make sure they know they are now responsible for handling these tasks.