Thanks for the responses. Just to respond to a few PPs' questions/comments:
Boss is not the owner of the organization. There are several layers of administration above him. During a conference call several months ago, Boss had his cell phone on the table, where it buzzed constantly throughout the call. One of his superiors also attended the call, and according to my friend, was bothered by the buzzing cell phone. My friend wouldn't know whether this superior said anything to Boss about the phone, but my friend did say that the cell phone has appeared less frequently at some meetings since then. It is more likely to be present in management team meetings and less likely to appear in meetings that Boss's superiors or others outside the department might attend.
One member of the management team does send a follow-up e-mail after the meetings about the action items that were discussed. This does not prompt Boss to take action. The managers remind him about once per week, but the items just drop off his radar. There could be a whole other post about that part of the problem. They remind him by e-mail, and they discuss his action items during each meeting. It's obvious that he's not following through, but they don't know a way to push the issue with him and spur him to take action.
I have cautioned my friend about making sure he and his coworkers retain their notes from meetings because as Cheyne mentioned, they may be blamed if something falls through the cracks. There have been a few glaring situations lately in which Boss's inaction has created some obvious problems that have affected their operation and have affected others as well. The good news is that these action items are discussed in a meeting that five or six people attend. They all serve as witnesses to the action during the meetings. All of them know the assignment of action items from previous meetings. When problems like this erupt, Boss's first inclination is to point a finger at one of them. However, they can easily say, "You told us during our Nov. 15 meeting that you were going to address that. We followed up with e-mails on Nov. 19 and Nov. 26 about the status, but we didn't hear back from you."
The managers give the Boss deadlines, they prompt him repeatedly, and still there is no action. My friend has had some situations in which Boss's inaction was so severe that he had to take action himself in order to avoid very significant problems in his part of the operation. This generally results in Boss second-guessing my friend's decisions. This is a tremendous frustration because Boss was supposed to take care of the issue in the first place. My advice to my friend has been to stop bailing out Boss. Period. If Boss doesn't take action, then let the chips fall. More recently, when Boss has had to take the heat for his inaction, his response is to blame some external factor -- another department, one of his superiors, etc.
Back to the cell phone ... I like the idea of halting the meeting while Boss is occupied with his phone and will share that with my friend. Perhaps it would increase Boss's awareness of the problem.