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In the UK, it is a legal requirement to take minutes at board meetings, and you should also perform that task during any meeting in which attendees vote on action points.
It is also recommended for some forms of HR meetings such as formal disciplinary or grievance meetings, internal investigations and dismissals as they can contain sensitive and confidential details so require an unbiased, accurate and factual recording of information. Minutes from HR related meetings can offer a level of protection if a situation is escalated and becomes a legal concern.
Minute taking can be a challenging task. It gets even more complicated if you are expected to be an active participant at the meeting as well. Not only are you required to keep track of what everyone is saying, but you are also required to record the discussions and decisions accurately.
For some meetings, impartial minute taking may be advisable either by an internal person not involved in the meeting or by an external professional minute taker so that their full focus is on recording the discussions, agreements, actions and outcomes of the meeting.
An impartial minute taker that has no direct link to the subject matter or person(s) involved in the meeting can provide peace of mind and a level of comfort to all involved. It enables all attendees to concentrate on the meeting at hand, which will support an open environment for discussion.
Minute taking is a key administrative role and a hugely important undertaking. As minutes are often a legal representation of what happened in a meeting, they should be easily accessible to refer back to and to prove that the meeting adhered to proper processes.
However, minutes are not simply a transcript of absolutely everything that was said during the meeting but rather a document containing:
- A summary of all the main points that meeting attendees discussed and who said what.
- Any actions and agreements they came to.
- When actions will be completed – timescales and deadlines.
- Who is accountable for carrying out these actions.
To be effective the minute taker must:
- Document an accurate record of what took place.
- Create a concise document, avoiding irrelevances and repetition.
- Create a balanced document that accurately reflects the discussion.
- Ensure that the minutes are provided in a way that makes them easy to read and makes sense to people who are not at the meeting.
How to take effective minutes
Before you start taking notes, it is important to understand the type of information you need to record at the meeting and the depth of coverage required. You should have clarified this with the meeting organiser/Chair prior to the meeting.
Effective minute takers use a template such as the one included in Unit 2, based on the agenda. This makes it easy for you to simply jot down notes, decisions, etc. under each item as you go along. If you are taking notes by hand, consider including space below each item on your outline for your handwritten notes, then print it out and use it to capture minutes.
Minute notes usually include the following:
- Date, time and venue of the meeting.
- Names of attendees (include job titles if required) and those who are unable and/or fail to attend.
- Announcements such as acceptance or corrections/amendments to previous meeting minutes.
- Decisions made about each agenda item, for example:
– Actions taken or agreed to be taken
– Next steps
– Motions taken or rejected
– Voting outcomes – e.g., details of who made motions; who seconded and approved
– Items to be held over.
- Any other business.
- Next meeting date and time.
- Documents to be included with the minutes.
There are certain details you should always include in your meeting notes so that you can accurately write up the minutes of the meeting.
- Type of meeting – For example, Boards can hold several types of meetings, including regular, special, called, emergency – it’s important to include which type of meeting the minutes cover.
- Organisation name – Although this might sound obvious, your minutes should include the official name of the organising body.
- Date and time – The meeting time you record in the minutes is the time the meeting is called to order. If the meeting was scheduled for 10:00, and for some reason it started at 10:30, the minutes should indicate 10:30 as the start time.
- Location – The location should be included unless the organisation meets at the same place every time. If this is the case, only include the location in the minutes of the first meeting of the financial year.
Why is it important?
There are many reasons why it is important to take minutes of meetings. We have already seen that from a legal perspective, meeting minutes give an organisation protection by recording why decisions were made.
Other reasons why taking minutes of meetings is important include:
- They help to drive action points – When you create the minutes of a meeting, you should be clear about the decisions made, but also about the next steps required to put them into action. Minutes are an opportunity to clearly state what must happen, when the deadline is and who is responsible for that action. This acts as a reminder to meeting attendees of their duties and holds them accountable going forward.
- They help to measure progress – Because you have action points in the minutes, the attendees can easily see the success or otherwise of the decisions they make. All attendees should read the minutes before the next meeting in order to be able to approve them, and this acts as an instant reminder of what has or hasn’t been achieved in the interim.
- They provide accountability for decisions – There is the potential for those not in the meeting to see it as one harmonised decision-making group. But the reality is that attendees at meetings do not always agree. Minutes show who voted for and against the various motions, which means attendees have to take ownership of their decisions. This means that they should think very carefully before casting votes, which can only benefit the organisation. In case of conflicts, minutes are useful to know what agreements were made and by who.
- They are the starting point of any following meetings – Attendees can go over the previous meeting minutes to remind every participant of what happened, what topics they discussed, and the decisions they made. This is particularly useful for people who did not attend the previous meeting; everyone who missed or who was not invited to the previous meeting can be updated on what happened and be informed on what they missed.
The role of the minute taker
A minute taker is an attendee at a meeting whose role is to record the minutes of the meeting. Anybody can take some form of notes from a meeting; however, it takes skill and practice to take quality meeting minutes. A minute taker is an essential component in an effective meeting process. They must listen attentively to the proceedings to avoid losing anything important. It is also their responsibility to give an impartial record of the meeting.
The minute taker often begins by preparing the meeting room and seating arrangements, preparing and arranging the equipment and paper, and, more importantly, liaising with the Chair and attendees. If the meeting is online, the minute taker may test the technology prior to the meeting. The role of a minute taker at meetings is therefore administrative. They put in place preparations aimed at making the meeting a success and then record the proceedings to be shared with the attendees later on.
Both the Chair and the attendees rely on the minute taker for the success of a meeting. Other duties may include performing critical tasks given by the Chair such as helping with keeping to time on agenda items and maintaining order in certain types of meetings.
A minute taker requires certain qualities. Not everyone is naturally good at taking meeting minutes. However, anyone can acquire the skill through training, personal development and practice. There are some basic skills that every good minute taker must have.
The ability to listen, absorb and record what is being said is crucial. Active listening requires a great deal of concentration and focus and is vital for recording accurate notes. To improve your listening skills by paraphrasing, try this simple exercise:
– Listen to a news item for about 5 minutes, then paraphrase it in writing. Because we have rolling news, the item will be repeated so when it is, check your paraphrased notes with the reporter’s version. Were you able to make sense of the reporter’s points and demonstrate that you were listening closely by the notes that you have taken?
Keep practising – Paraphrasing and summarising are both fantastic communication skills that can help you to take accurate minutes.
You must have the confidence to speak up where and when appropriate, for example when seeking clarification of a point being made. As the minute taker you have the right to ask for clarification at any point. Ask questions such as:
- – Please can you briefly introduce yourselves (this is important so that you can make a visual map of the table as attendees are being introduced).
- – Could you give me a precise action for the minutes?
- – Who is responsible for that?
- – Could you define the action for the minutes?
- – What is the deadline for that action?
Being more assertive, you can become a stronger and more confident communicator.
You must be well organised. For example, you will need to read the agenda beforehand, potentially hold a pre-meeting meeting with the Chair, go through previous minutes and background papers, and arrange for the provision of any devices and materials that will be needed in the meeting. Top tips for improving your organisational skills include:
– Creating a to-do list.
– Prioritising each task.
– Inputting tasks into a schedule.
– Establishing the necessary steps to achieve the tasks.
– Ticking them off when completed.
It is easier to document the discussions if you know what the attendees are talking about. You should have some knowledge on the subject(s) being discussed either through formal training or by doing some research prior to the meeting.
Before the meeting if you spot something worrying you on the agenda, speak to the Chair or the person who has put the agenda item on. It is always useful to ask for a pre-meeting with the Chair to go through the papers.
Good written english
The real work is not in documenting the proceedings clearly, but effectively communicating the outcomes and salient points after the meeting is over. You must be able to produce a document that is of the appropriate quality for the meeting attendees. One of the major criticisms of writing in business is the use of inappropriate words or phrases and punctuation errors. The criticism falls into five main areas:
– Using a long word when a shorter one will do.
– Using words or phrases which people wouldn’t use in normal conversation.
– Using words unfamiliar to the reader.
– Using jargon and acronyms.
– Bad punctuation.
Critical thinking helps you sift through the data to know what is noteworthy and what should be left out. Look at the following example of a report on the success of an installation in reception made at a meeting:
“The goldfish have been a great success in the reception area; many people commented that they were relaxing. It seemed to stop small children running around – they were more interested in watching the fish”. The minute taker summarised by noting “Goldfish in reception – a good thing”
Also, long wordy notes which do not highlight the salient points are of little value unless a transcription of the entire meeting is required. The following are some words and phrases often found in business writing. What reader-friendly words could you replace them with?
– During the time that.
– In the event that.
– The manner in which.
– Appertaining to.
– Due to the fact that.
– In order that.
– The writer.
– With reference to.
What needs to be recorded
Effective meeting minutes are all about understanding what is important to include and what does not need to be recorded.
You don’t need to write a transcript of the meeting – recording it all would be impossible and unnecessary. The amount of information that the minute taker includes in the minutes is often known as the “depth of coverage”, and will vary depending on their intended use.
Depending on the purpose, the right choice for minutes can vary from a very concise outline to a more detailed summary. The depth of coverage should always be agreed with the Chair in advance.
It is important to write your meeting minutes objectively, avoiding using adjectives such as “there was a lively discussion” and adverbs such as “the manager spoke softly” where you can, to prevent bias as much as possible.
It is important to capture the principal points of the meeting, including details such as:
- Meeting details – Meeting details include the meeting subject, location, date and start and end time. Also included is the name of the person who organised the meeting and the meeting agenda.
- Meeting attendance – Invitees in attendance, attendees who were not invited but who attended and any apologies from non-attendees.
- Copies – List the names of all individuals and departments that should receive a copy of the minutes.
- Minutes of the last meeting – This is a note of whether these minutes were agreed or amended.
- Business or matters arising – Details of any matters arising from the last meeting.
- Meeting notes – Use the agenda as a guide; this agenda will show you what is planned to be discussed during the meeting. Use the meeting agenda as an outline for your note taking, with each agenda item as a sub-topic where you can add more specific notes.
- Meeting decisions – Notes on what was decided, by who, anything undecided and next steps on decisions.
- Meeting actions – Any actions are noted with the person’s initials responsible for the action and the completion due date.
- Any other business – Notes of anything discussed and/or decided that was not on the agenda.
- Date and time of next meeting – Note when the next meeting is scheduled for.