Don’t End a Meeting Without Doing These 3 Things

We’ve all left meetings unsure of next steps and sometimes unable to accurately recount what was discussed. With all of the preparation that we put in before meetings, it makes sense that we should also have a quick wrap-up with attendees to ensure the gathering achieved what it set out to. Here are three steps to take:
1. Confirm key decisions and next steps.
2. Develop communication points.
3. Gather session feedback.
In the same way that a sports team benefits from a post-game debrief, incorporating these three elements into your meetings can help your team improve future performance.

When a sports team finishes a game, they usually don’t gather up their gear and immediately leave the court, rink, field or locker room. The players and coaches take a few minutes for a post-game meeting – a ritual that’s just as important as the pre-game warm-up.

In our view, participants in business meetings can benefit from the same exercise. A quick post-meeting wrap-up with attendees before they leave the room goes a long way to ensuring the gathering achieved what it set out to, and that future get-togethers will also prove successful. Here are three steps to take at the end of each meeting though you can, of course, dial up or down each component as the situation warrants. Once you’ve done this in person, make sure to follow up in writing, as well.

Confirm key decisions and next steps. Recap what was decided in the meeting, who is accountable for following through, when implementation will occur, and how it will be communicated. You want every attendee to leave the meeting with the same understanding of what was agreed, so there’s little chance of anyone reopening the issues later. One client we’ve worked with preps for this end-of-meeting review by writing down decisions as they are made on a flip chart so nothing is forgotten or overlooked. He also notes action items, including who is responsible, when they should happen and how status will be reported back to the group.

Develop communication points. If a colleague not at the meeting asks an attendee “What happened?” he or she should know what to say. So before you wrap up, put the question to the group. “What are the most important things we accomplished in our time here together?” As the group responds, capture the key points on a flip chart or whiteboard and briefly summarize them. Once you have alignment on what should be communicated to others ask everyone if there are any parts of the discussion that they wouldn’t want to be shared. Some information might be confidential; perhaps some ideas aren’t quite ready for dissemination. Be as specific as possible here so everyone clearly understands what is off limits. Then, as soon as possible after the meeting, send your agreed-upon talking points to everyone in an email. The goal of this exercise is not to give people a script to read from. It’s to provide guidance on the key messages they should convey, and what they should keep to themselves, if asked, so the rest of the organization gets a consistent picture of what went on. After a recent strategy meeting of the top 30 executives at a major technology company, for example, the group decided on these communication points:

Gather session feedback. Especially if your group will meet regularly, ask attendees for feedback on the session while it’s fresh in their minds. This is an oft-missed opportunity to learn both what people liked and what they would change. Instead of asking a broad question like “What feedback do you have?”, which often yields equally vague and unhelpful responses, break the discussion into what we call “roses” (positives) and “thorns” (negatives). Start with the latter. Tell attendees to think about everything they have received or done related to the meeting from the time they were invited to the review, including any prereads, prework and aspects of the meeting itself, such as location, time quality of the coffee, etc. Then ask, “What could be improved?” Avoid debating the suggestions raised, but do ask questions to clarify what’s being said. Finally, turn to roses. Ask the group “What went well? What should we be sure to do again in the future?” Coming on top of the recap of decisions, next steps and talking points, this last discussion helps you end the session a positive note.

When you embed a regular post-meeting debrief that incorporates these three elements into your meetings, you can help your team dramatically improve its play.

Bob Frisch is the managing partner of the Strategic Offsites Group, a Boston-based consultancy. He is also the co-author of Simple Sabotage (HarperOne, 2015), the author of Who’s In The Room? (Jossey-Bass, 2012), and four Harvard Business Review articles, including “Off-Sites That Work” (June 2006).

Cary Greene is a partner of the Strategic Offsites Group, a Boston-based consultancy, and co-author of Simple Sabotage (HarperOne, 2015) and the Harvard Business Review article “Leadership Summits that Work” (March 2015).  He writes frequently for

Don’t End a Meeting Without Doing These 3 Things

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