By Bill Flury

Yesterday, four people met in the conference space to address three issues of concern to all of them. The agenda had been circulated beforehand so the discussion was very focused. They agreed on how each of the issues should be addressed and the actions that would be required to resolve them. At the end of the meeting, as everyone was heading out the door to get back to work, the leader congratulated them on their analysis and discussion.

A week later, after a hectic seven days, the same group came together and held what amounted to the same meeting they had had the week before. Nothing had changed except the calendar. The issues they discussed were the same, the proposed resolutions were the same. It seemed as if the prior meeting was a ghost – it had never occurred.

How did that happen?

Well, for one thing, at the earlier meeting no one kept any notes of the discussion and the decisions. Everyone remembered the discussions but not very well and differently. So, they had to discuss the issues again to reach agreement, again.

The tasks they agreed on were not written down so each (very busy) person was willing to believe that someone else was the one responsible. The manager, also very busy, had no basis for following up to make sure the agreed upon tasks were being done. The tasks did not get done. So, they started to hold the same meeting again. How wasteful and annoying that would be!!

They Saw a Ghost

A few minutes into the meeting they saw the ghost of the previous meeting. They decided to figure out how keep from having any more ghost meetings. After some discussion, they developed a ghostbusting checklist and make it mandatory for all meetings.

Ghostbusting Checklist

Appoint a ghostbuster who will:

  1. Keep a copy of the agenda
  2. Keep notes on the essence of the discussions and decisions
  3. List all action assignments and due dates
  4. Promptly, after the meeting, provide a copy to the leader of the meeting for follow up.
  5. And, if you are the leader, follow up on all action assignments.

Advice: If you want to break records, make records.


Special Note:

This article is based on my experience in support of the White House Office. We were retained to attend the meetings of senior staff in the Roosevelt room of the West Wing. Our job was to take notes – specifically listing all tasks, agreed due dates and person responsible. Within a few hours of the end of the meeting we would provide the convener of the meeting with a notebook with listings by person, by due date and by subject. On the day after the meeting we would visit the convener and show him/her how to use those listings to follow up when making phone calls to the various attendees. In effect, we were training them to be good project managers. Most of them were policy and idea people and had never had PM experience.

Until we started doing this they had been having lots of ghost meetings. The presidential initiatives and legislation they were working on had stalled. That finally changed and the initiatives began to achieve some forward momentum. (Should I capitalize that?)


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