Learning & Development, Talent

Mis-Assigned Action Items

As we’ve discussed in previous posts, action items are key elements of meeting minutes and general project management. They define who owns what action, what the action is, when it’s due, and the status of that action.


Oftentimes, though, action items are mis-assigned. The person assigning them might not know the team or individual who should own a particular function or may not fully grasp the action and its implications. This person might just know something needs to be documented and assigned.

Hypothetical Impact of Mis-Assignment

When action items are mis-assigned, one of the worst things employees can do is disregard them. For example, consider this hypothetical situation:

A meeting is held to discuss next steps for a customer that is late on paying invoices. Julia is not present at the meeting, but because she is part of the finance team, Bill, who is leading the meeting, assigns Julia an action item to reissue the invoices and follow up with the customer via phone. The action item is due by the next meeting, which is in 2 weeks.

Julia sees the action item but disregards it because issuing and reissuing invoices are actually part of Rachel’s job function. When Bill follows up with Julia 2 weeks later to check on the status of the action item, Julia tells him as much. But now, there is no time to reassign the action item to Rachel and have it completed by the deadline.

The problem in this hypothetical isn’t necessarily that Julia didn’t do the work assigned to her. It’s that she didn’t tell anyone she wouldn’t be completing the action item and didn’t identify the appropriate person to follow up with the task. This situation occurs too often in workplaces; therefore, tasks are simply not completed.

Assigning Clear Accountability

Companies should make it clear to employees that when they are assigned an action item, they need to address it. That doesn’t necessarily mean doing the assigned work. It might simply mean reassigning to the appropriate person. They key is to do this right away and not wait until the action item is due to inform everyone that it was mis-assigned.

Don’t leave it to chance that an assignment you’ve made will be seamlessly handled by an employee. Make sure your company culture is such that employees know that when they’re assigned a task, they need to either do that task or pass it on—and they need to let the original assignor know that the task has been passed on.

How much productivity is lost in your organization due to unclear task assignments?

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