Minute Taking

by Clare Forrest

Why minutes and why me?

A meeting is an event where minutes are taken and hours wasted.

James T Kirk

Why do meetings need minutes? Who uses them?

These questions are critical. The length and breadth of your set of minutes depends on you being able to answer these questions before you get to the meeting.

Why do meetings need minutes?

Not all of them do. A set of minutes shows four things:

  1. What was being discussed and why
  2. The key points made during the discussion
  3. What decision was made
  4. How the decision was to be carried out – actioned.

Many meetings only want a reminder of 3 and 4, so the job of the minute taker is very easy. The ‘minutes’ aren’t really minutes at all – more a set of action notes. But sometimes more is required because you might need to have one or all of

  • An audit trail for decisions and actions over time (for example, to see how a key budget or policy decision was made)
  • A legal proof (for example, in a disciplinary or grievance meeting)
  • An official record of policy decisions taken, perhaps including details of who was associated with them (for example, a Board of Directors’ meeting).

Generally, the more formal, senior or public the meeting, the more a full set of minutes is needed. Informal meetings – team meetings, project updates – probably only need a set of action notes or even a photo of a flipchart.

Key action

Find out what sort of minutes are needed and who will be using them before you go to the meeting. This will ensure that, when you come to write up the minutes, these will be

  • At the right level of detail for your readers
  • As brief as possible – no one wants to read a long document
  • Able to be understood without people having to refer to other papers, such as previous minutes
  • Clear, so there is no doubt about the decisions taken.

Who uses minutes?

A prerequisite for any writing task is to know for whom you’re producing the document.

People who need or want to examine the minutes may include

  • Those invited to the meeting, present and absent
  • Those affected by the topics/deadlines and so on (colleagues, public)
  • Other departments/managers/colleagues
  • The press and other media
  • Shareholders
  • Customers
  • Courts
  • The Information Commissioner.
Key tips

Knowing who will be reading your minutes will help you to choose the style and language you use.

Someone who is not a member of the meeting will need more detail – full names, fewer acronyms and so on.

If the minutes may be read by the media or your customers, then you might need to choose your words carefully.

Why me?

Plenty of people try to avoid taking the minutes of a meeting, for several reasons

  • Because it’s another task on the ever-growing ‘to do’ list
  • Because they don’t know how to produce good minutes
  • Because they think of it as a secretarial job.

In fact, there are sound reasons for offering to take minutes

  • It may give you a chance to spend time with your boss or some other senior manager and find out more about them (see also Managing Upwards)
  • You can ask questions to focus and summarise the discussion, influencing the meeting
  • It gets you noticed
  • If you volunteer before the meeting, rather than waiting until the task is sprung on you, you will have a chance to prepare the agenda and liaise with the chair, which will make it much easier to do a good job.

What if I’m also a member of the meeting or chairing it?

Every meeting member and the chair should be taking notes too, whether or not there’s a minute taker, so that they can quickly follow up on what was agreed. It’s not difficult to do this and to contribute to the meeting, or even chair it at the same time. Just make sure that, before a new agenda topic is introduced, the previous one has been properly covered and you have all the elements needed.