Project Management: Act On Action Items After Team Meeting

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Last updated on
31st May, 2022
20th Jun, 2018
Project Management: Act On Action Items After Team Meeting

Invariably, all team meetings start with the promise to achieve the mighty goals and a zest to have the decided action plan followed up; only to have zero or little progress even after substantial time passes by.

There is something in those confines of the meeting rooms that brings the best of ideas and enthusiasm to make a difference in everyone. But as soon as the team walks out of that door, back to their desks or an informal tea break after the meeting, all the goals, visions and action plans fall by the wayside and life returns back to the same old way of working.

Invariably, again, there will be some members in the team who would wonder about what really happened to that action plan that was supposed to make the project shine again and to remove all the blockers; only to be silenced by the non-response of majority of the team.

More or less, the response will end with the generic statement that the Manager was supposed to revert with something on some item and there has no update ever since. All the while, the manager is awaiting inputs from the team itself.

Have you ever faced such scenarios in your projects and team meetings? If not, then wonderful. Please leave a comment at the end of this blog and share your best practices with us audience unless they consist of corporal punishment for defaulting members. Not a bad thought, though but it will not work in a democracy and even lesser so in a professional environment.

So how do we really ensure that team actually owns up to the action items and acts on it towards tangible outcomes after the team meeting?

If you have also experienced this same feeling, then do read on.

Been there and done that
“Been there and done that” syndrome belongs to those conditions where we have tried to break the logjam of above problem by assigning ETAs [expected time to achieve] and owners of those items. That seemed to work up until 2010.

Ever since that year, I have personally noticed that even holding people accountable for action items is not yielding any action unless they are grabbed by their collars [in extreme cases and we certainly don’t want to go there].

So assigning ETAs and owners of those actions is not working anymore.

Some of the managers I spoke with modified this approach with a fair bit of success used to have an “action item dashboard” showing in public view such as hallway with item owners clearly called out and their current status marked by Red, Yellow and Green Post-It notes.

That trick worked for a whole and it still does but there is a catch in this too.

For the first few days, it triggers action on the account of public visibility and it generates public interest also especially of passersby, but then after few days it dies a natural death and nobody gives it a second thought; only to have it replaced by another action plan that came out of another team meeting.

The root causes
After having spent more than a decade in human interaction patterns and ownership attitudes, I came to a conclusion that only 5% of action items fail due to a lack of enthusiasm or interest from the team members.

Why Action Items Fail
That puts a whopping 95% in the questionable range as to why they do not materialize.

I spoke with hundreds of team members on what constitutes as their reasons for not being able to follow through on their commitments of team meetings and following are the responses, arranged in descending order of vote count. I call them “Star struck pattern for Inaction” [copyrighted and Trade Mark by Abhinav Gupta]

  • Those action items are inherently considered secondary to the project deliverables and hence, do not get enough bandwidth.
  • The action items have a dependency on other individual or a group to revert back and that never materializes
  • The action item is currently blocked due to some technical or logistical issue and to unblock it, the said team members’ needs to invest time which simply is not available at hand.
  • The team member is not able to understand how completing the assigned action item will help deliver the end goal, so the sense of urgency is not clear.
  • The action item is theoretical and not feasible in the real world. So not following up on that.
  • It requires the person to go out of his or her comfort zone and that is not going to happen sooner.

The above 6 reasons contribute to 95% of action items not materializing out of team meeting. The remaining 5% can be accounted to the “3-Lack Syndrome” [copyrighted and Trade Mark by Abhinav Gupta]:

  • Lack of interest in the action item itself
  • Lack of Interest in the overall well-being of team, project, company or society
  • Lack of Empathy since the problem does not affect them; yet!

The proposed solution to this problem
It took me more than 5 years to fine tune this approach into something that delivers sustained output and results irrespective of project domain, team personalities, and action item variations.

But before I start delving deeper into the solution, let us understand why the said approach works with better odds than other approaches.

See, there is an underlying human tendency that evaluates the person assigning the task to them more than the task itself. If the organizer of the meeting and the corresponding person who assigned them the action items, that Is You, enjoys the trust and authority of the audience then the chances of getting the completion increases by a few basis points immediately.

Then comes the second human tendency riding on top of the first one, that is, what is in it for me?

Some team members are intelligent and mature enough to answer this particular questions for themselves in private. But some require a picture to be painted for them by the meeting organizer.

It is important to understand that the answer for “what is in it for me?” need not be some reward or gold or money at the end of it. But a way that shows the audience that this whole exercise is going to benefit all of us and they are part of “US”.

Once, these two subconscious barriers are crossed, it becomes very easy to get action items acted upon. But not entirely successful.

Because one final frontier is left and that is the practicality of the action requested from the audience.

Every individual is intelligent enough to understand whether something is feasible to be achieved in real time or not. Though some intelligent and bold individuals might be willing to push their efforts to achieve the unthinkable, but majority of the audience does not fall into that category.

Hence it is the responsibility of the meeting organizer or the conductor to make sure that action items follow these patterns:

Essential patterns of action items

  • They should be small enough to be achievable
  • They should follow a logical pattern of completion leading to the big picture achievement
  • The owners and their expectations are clearly understood along with the backup plans

And most importantly, a personalized sync up with action item owners on a regular basis after the meeting is over.

Most of us make the mistake of considering rough notes of our meeting discussion as action items and they get floated around in a Snapshot or email format to die a slow death of inaction.

To get the action out of your action items, you need to understand the dynamics of the team, people personalities, goal of the meeting and your own personal investment in it.

Because no one will invest their money in your project if you do not have any stakes invested in it. Ain’t it? Learn more about how you can emerge as a Project Management Professional everyone looks up to.

Cheers! And All the best !!


Abhinav Gupta

Blog Author

PMP, has 12+ years of experience working in Information technology sector and has worked with companies like Infosys and Microsoft in various capacities. He started his career as a manual tester for a world renowned software product and grew on to become automation champion in both functional as well as UI. He has worked with Healthcare units providing various software solutions to companies in North America and has worked with search engine based groups to enhance their experience and provide more bang for buck to their customers.