How to Drive Action Items With the Ultimate Meeting Notes Template

“Good morning! Thanks for making time for this meeting. I know we’re all busy, but we really want to get your input on our upcoming product launch. Wait, where is Barbara? And Mike? We need Andrew too. Okay, let me ping them...uh-huh...okay...alright, we’ll give them a few minutes. In the meantime, how was your weekend?”

(10 minutes later)

“Well, it looks like Barbara got pulled into another meeting and will be late. Mike and Andrew, can you get us started and then we’ll decide on action items when Barbara gets here?” 

Sound familiar? We’ve all been there: stuck in another meeting that seems more like a time-waster than a productivity-booster. As a participant, you might ask yourself, “If I’m not learning or contributing something to the meeting, why am I even here?” As a manager, you want to make sure every meeting is worthwhile for every participant — or your company is losing money due to lower productivity.

A recent survey by online scheduler Doodle found that poorly organized meetings will cost U.S. businesses nearly $400 billion in 2019 alone. 68% of US respondents said those poorly organized meetings meant they didn’t have enough time to complete their work. And Wrike’s research on stress shows that the average manager spends between 6-15 hours each week in meetings — just meetings.

There are some best practices that can make all meetings more productive, including:

  • Include all relevant information in the invitation, including the meeting date and time, location, dial-in information, and agenda. It’s also a good idea to include a deadline for responses so you aren’t chasing down participants when the meeting is about to start.
  • Start the meeting on time. It’s tempting to wait for participants who are running late, but that means the meeting is wasting the time of everyone who’s there and ready to go. Latecomers can catch up when they arrive.
  • Encourage everyone to participate. Most teams have introverts and extroverts, opinionated people and shy people, and those who are more comfortable or less comfortable with the assembled group. Don’t force people to talk but make it easy for the introverts to speak up by asking for ideas and input frequently. It also helps to be open to ideas via email or chat after the meeting.
  • End the meeting on time. It’s important to respect the schedules of your participants. If the meeting looks to go into overtime, ask if people are okay to stay a few more minutes. Don’t assume people can and will stay past the scheduled end time.
  • Use templates to make planning, managing, and following up after meetings simpler and more efficient. 

Time spent in meetings is time you aren’t making progress. So how can meetings be more productive? One way is to use a meeting notes template with a clear agenda, assigned speakers, points to cover, and a list of action items.

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Common elements of a meeting notes template

There are numerous meeting note templates with action items available online for all types of meetings. Every template contains similar basic information, while some offer specialized detail for specific meeting types. Elements you’ll find in most templates include: 

  • Meeting details (date, time, location, etc.)
  • Participants
  • Project goal statement/summary
  • Agenda items
  • Action items
  • Assignments by action items
  • Follow-up dates including milestones
  • Deadlines
  • Notes on reviewers and approvers for action items

Popular meeting types

Let’s talk about a few of the most common meetings and how they’re best managed, from start to finish. You can use this info to create and use the most-helpful meeting notes template. Here are a few of the most important meetings that happen at the beginning, the middle, and the end of a project:

  • Project kick-off
  • Brainstorming session
  • Project review/lessons learned

Project kick-off

Everyone knows the basics of a project kick-off meeting: Get the team together, talk about the project, expectations, and how to work together. The end result should be a team that’s on the same page and ready to hit the ground running. There are a number of specific elements that go into a successful kick-off meeting, including:  

  • Develop an agenda. The agenda should include the purpose of the meeting, as well as a project statement/summary, participant list, project scope, timeline, approach, assignments, how collaboration will take place, and any background information to help attendees prepare.
  • Devote adequate time to agenda items. Introductions may take 5 minutes, while discussing the project scope may take 15-20 minutes — and that’s okay. If you don’t have estimated times listed on the agenda, keep timing in mind as you go through the meeting.
  • Cover every item on the agenda. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to get off track and not fully address an agenda item or two. And if you know you might not address every agenda item, cover your highest priorities first.
  • Follow up promptly and accurately. The meeting isn’t over until you follow up — by sharing meeting notes, action items, the schedule of next steps, and suggested times for the next meeting with all attendees. A meeting notes template makes this easier since all information from the agenda and conversation during the meeting is captured in one place.

Now to the next meeting: Could it be a brainstorming session? Yes, please! 

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Brainstorming session

Brainstorming meetings run the risk of going off on tangents, using a lot of time but not producing results, and bringing together too many people to be effective. Jeff Bezos is known for the “two-pizza rule” for meetings: If there are more people than can be fed by two pizzas, there are too many people in the meeting. It’s brilliant, right? You want to generate lots of ideas, but more bodies don’t equal more ideas. Brainstorm meeting best practices include:

  • Keep the invite list small. Follow the pizza rule and mix it up. Bring together people from different departments or teams to get fresh perspectives.
  • Plan at least two brainstorming meetings: One to generate as many ideas as possible and another to focus on the best ideas from the first meeting. It’s possible an idea or two can be refined or combined and result in the ultimate solution.
  • Ask participants to come prepared. Provide some background information and ask participants to come with a few prepared ideas. That makes the meeting go more smoothly right from the start.
  • Set a 30-minute meeting limit. The longer the meeting, the fewer creative ideas you’ll get at the end. Plan to keep it short and sweet so participants don’t get tired.
  • Consider the location. Another meeting in the same old conference room could stifle creativity. Perhaps have a “progressive meeting,” similar to a progressive dinner, where participants move to different areas during the meeting. Or consider a lunchtime session in a reserved room at a local restaurant. 
  • Reinforce that there are no bad ideas. Gather every idea your team can muster, then take some time after the meeting to cull less-creative solutions. Your second session can focus on the best of the best ideas. 

And after all that brainstorming and work, what comes next?

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Project review

You’ve kicked off the project, brainstormed the heck out of it, finished the project, and it’s time to wrap things up with the project review or “lessons learned” meeting. This meeting can be a minefield of challenges. It’s easy to go negative. Participants can pile on one person or a less-than-positive event and make it a scapegoat. Some people may not be receptive to constructive criticism

The list goes on … but this is one of the most valuable kinds of meetings. Done right, the project review meeting helps teams determine what went well, what should be changed for the next project, and what should perhaps be removed from the project checklist altogether. 

  • Gather relevant information. That includes reports, data, and feedback from the team, client, or partners during the project. This should be shared in advance of the meeting to inform the conversation.
  • Select a handful of events to discuss in detail. Choose a few good and a few bad so you can learn from both.
  • Develop and share the agenda. Include the relevant data and specific events so participants can prepare for the meeting. 
  • Set the standard of civility and politeness. Remind participants everyone’s feedback is important and that feedback should be directed at the project, not specific individuals. No cage fights!
  • Be open to all feedback. Some of it may not be complimentary, but keep an open mind and remember the purpose of the meeting is to improve for next time. 

Meeting notes best practices

We’ve talked about many elements of meetings and meeting notes. Let’s wrap it all up with some best practices for professional and simple meeting notes.

  • Save meeting notes somewhere other than just in email. They should be in an easily sharable space, such as a collaborative work management tool like Wrike or an all-access shared folder in your cloud storage. This improves visibility into project communication, with the context provided by that meeting or previous meetings on the same topic.
  • Distribute the notes, recap, and action items list as soon after the meeting as possible, when it’s fresh in everyone’s mind.
  • Set reminders in calendars, a collaborative work management tool like Wrike, or whatever communication tool your team uses most.
  • Designate someone as the action item guru, who will follow up to ensure participants with action items are on track and direct them to help if they need it.
  • Send invitations for follow-up meetings the same day as the initial meeting. This ensures follow-up doesn’t fall through the cracks.

Start using a meeting notes template now, if not sooner

Wrike offers a variety of templates to streamline workflows, including one for meeting notes. Meeting notes templates can’t solve all your meeting issues or automatically cancel meetings that aren’t useful (we’re looking at you, Karen), but they can make taking action after meetings quicker and easier. Wrike’s other templates cover everything from campaign and event management to employee onboarding

Try Wrike’s meeting notes template today with a free 14-day trial of Wrike, and enjoy the feeling of contentedness that results from a thoroughly organized and expertly managed meeting with clear action items and concise follow-up.  

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