There are plenty of spirited articles that outline techniques for more effective and efficient meetings. But assuming you’ve done the basics that the theorists recommend, how can modern software tools help you squeeze that little bit of extra time and effort out of your meetings?
In this blog post, I’ll show you some simple tips on how to use Google’s G Suite (a.k.a. Google Docs) to reduce the running time of your meetings, efficiently identify and assign actions, as well as ways for attendees to get more value from the meeting and track what actions were assigned to them (at this and other meetings they attended).
And please don’t be tempted to give up after reading the first 1-2 items, thinking you know this stuff already. Trust me, the rest of them will be worth it.
Google G Suite
Originally named Google Docs, G Suite is the current name of Google’s web-hosted productivity software offering. Along with the usual Email (Gmail) and File Sharing (Drive) services, it also comes with a variety of “office” software products, including (but not limited to) Docs, Sheets and Slides, each of which support a wide range of very neat collaboration features.
There are, of course, similar offerings from other vendors but I’ve not used those as much as G Suite. But enough about thats, let’s get your efficiency up!
Because Google Docs are stored in the Google Cloud (and not on your local laptop), more than one person can access them at the same time. And in terms of what these people (a.k.a. collaborators) can do, they:
- Can View – people can see/read the contents of the document but cannot change it.
- Can Comment – people can see the contents of the document, can make comments on that content but cannot make changes to the document itself. Their changes need to be reviewed (and approved) by the document owner.
- Can Edit – people can edit the document directly themselves, or make comments on content created by others.
So assuming that you’ve already/recently created a Google Doc to track your meeting(s), and assuming you’ve outlined a very basic agenda therein, the first thing you should do is share that document with the others attendees, giving them Edit access.
That way, they can add their comments/updates ahead of time and give a verbal update during the meeting instead. Not only will this be a more engaging experience for them and others (allowing for a more focused discussion) but it will also save the chairperson the time of having to minute their verbal update, which will keep the meeting moving along. This could also give the chairperson just enough time to record actions relevant to those updates there and then, also saving them time after the meeting.
Once the meeting has concluded and once you’ve made any final adjustments to the notes/actions, you should then share the document to the final, wider audience with Can Comment access. This will automatically alert them that the meeting notes are available for review, but also allow them to ask any follow-up questions they might have but without consuming the time of all the original attendees – just the document owner.
Anyone with Can Edit or Can Comment access to a Google Doc can select sections of text and make a comment about them. These comments are then recorded in the document for others to see (or respond to). The document owner is also alerted (by email or mobile alert) when a comment is made in one of their documents.
It’s also possible to reference another collaborator when making a comment in a document (assuming they have access to the document). This can be done by referencing their email address (with a plus symbol before it) in the comment body. In this case, that collaborator will also receive an alert (as will the owner).
Once a comment thread (or discussion) has concluded (i.e. the question has been answered), the document owner can Resolve the comment, after which it will no longer be visible. It will always be recorded in the document history but only visible to the document owner thereafter.
3) Introducing Action Items
This is where it begins to get really interesting, so thanks for sticking with us until now.
In more recent updates to G Suite, Google enhanced the commenting functionality so that when referencing another collaborator you have the option to Assign the comment as an Action Item to them. The difference between this and an ordinary comment may not be entirely obvious yet, but keep reading and you’ll see the value shortly.
4) Auto-Assignment of Action Items
In order to initiate a regular comment (or Action Item) in a document, you first need to select some text, choose the Insert, Comment menu option, address the intended collaborator and tick the to option to Assign as Task. That’s a lot of typing and clicking, when you’re otherwise trying to listen to meeting attendees give verbal updates and transpose those into appropriate notes and actions (for them or others).
Fortunately, G Suite has a very clever feature that can help (subject to certain conditions). If the document owner (or another collaborator with Edit access) phrases an update to the document in a certain way (e.g. “John to follow up with the Sales team”) and the document has been explicitly shared with someone called John, then G Suite will automatically attempt to assign that piece of text as an Action Item to John (prompting you first of course).
This is not only another excellent time saver but another reason to share the document ahead of time (to the right people). It’s also a strong incentive to be more prescriptive and succinct in your narrative as the meeting chairperson.
5) Revealing and Reviewing Your Action items
So you and your colleagues are a few weeks into your new G Suite regime and you’ve personally chaired a good few meetings and attended several others. And in doing so, you know you’ve amassed a sizeable number of action items but have no idea which documents they’re in or how to find them (since your last browser restart did not preserve your open tabs).
So give this a try instead:
- Go to your Google Drive home page.
- In the Search box at the top, enter the criteria: followup:actionitems (or click the Search Options, scroll to the bottom and select the Follow up drop-down menu and select the Action items only option).
- Voila! You now have a list of all Google Docs where there’s an action on you (including ones not owned by you).
Note that this does not work for ordinary comments – you need to be sure that the original comments were Assigned as Action Items in their respective documents.