3 Ways to Make Your Remote Team Accountable

Last Updated Apr 14, 2010 7:23 AM EDT

Managers who run meetings know two things for sure: written minutes help keep track of what actually happens, and they are seldom kept, distributed and read. Even when they are sent out, they're often the first emails deleted. Still, well-documented meeting notes are some of the most powerful tools you have to ensure your team knows what's going on, keep track of who's committed to which action items, and eliminate plausible deniability. ("Oh, did we say we were going to do that? I didn't know you meant today.")

Fortunately, technology makes it easier than ever to keep track of what happens in meetings -- often in ways you never could have imagined in the days when meeting minutes were taken by hand. We've come a long way since my mother was a secretary tasked with writing down in shorthand everything that was discussed, then translating it into something mortals could read.

Here are three ways to make sure everyone knows what happened and can agree on who does what:

  1. Instead of emailing notes, post them to a shared site and require signoff. I'm not a big fan of the "sign here so we know you read it" school of management, but sometimes your team needs to take a step back to take a step forward. Rather than email the minutes to everyone, only to have them hit "delete" without reading them, post them to your team's shared site. You can track who's read them, allow comments right there for everyone to read and start discussion threads.
  2. Transcriptions allow more accuracy. Most people are too busy participating in the meeting to give a detailed report of what happens. Usually it's "we talked about _____ and voted to do ____. Important feedback is left out, as are the players in the conversation. If you miss the meeting, there's no way to really understand what the discussion was, what questions got asked and by whom. Software is getting better all the time. A package like Dragon or another transcription tool can be helpful. Of course they work best from recordings, which leads us to:
  3. Record your webinars and teleconferences. The great thing about digital technology is that everything becomes easily recorded. It's hard to write down word-for-word a discussion about sales strategy, but it's easy to hit a button at the beginning of your call and one at the end and have a permanent record. You can then save it for a period of time, so that those who missed the meeting can get caught up without relying on hearsay, and you can gently coach people who don't live up to commitments by reminding them that they were part of the decision process. Recording is almost always a part of your company's telephony package, but few people take advantage of it.
It's probably overkill to do this for all meetings. Certainly important decision-making meetings, project launches and the like could benefit from accurate, timely minutes. They can save you hours down the road.

photo courtesy of Flickr user footage CC 2.0