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17.12.2021 Organisation & processes

The ultimate guide to taking meeting minutes

The ultimate guide to taking meeting minutes

In a fast-paced and productive meeting, it’s easy to forget some of the key points that were raised. Problems are being solved and creative conversations are flowing freely. But if you’ve not got a record of what was decided, actioned or said then important points can easily be forgotten.

That’s why taking meeting minutes is an essential part of any effective business meeting. 

However, if your team aren’t experienced in taking meeting minutes, then some basic advice on how to take meeting minutes might be appreciated. Taking minutes is more than just noting down everything that’s said over the course of a half-hour meeting. Good meeting minutes should be short and sweet and formatted in an efficient way.

Here are some tips to follow to help optimise your meeting minutes for maximum success.

Meeting notes and minutes are different

First things first, before jumping right into how to take minute meetings you need to know the difference between meeting notes and meeting minutes. This will help to streamline the minute-taking process for anyone who needs to do it in your company.

Meeting minutes are to be used as a formal record of what was discussed and decided on in a meeting. They should have a clear structure and document any actions, key statements or decisions made by all members of a meeting.

Meeting notes, however, are much less formal. They can be taken by each and every individual present at the meeting, relating more to their personal duties and responsibilities as well as actions taken from the meeting. In terms of meeting notes, these can be handwritten. In fact, it is encouraged as you’re more likely to remember the material and less likely to get distracted this way!

However, meeting minutes are better recorded digitally as these can easily be amended, saved in an accessible place and shared with relevant stakeholders.

It is worth noting that sometimes an individual’s notes may contain something the minute-taker missed out on. If this often happens, you can consider making the minutes collaborative after the meeting.

This could mean that the team share their notes, and the minute-taker briefly looks over these and adds them to their own document. Of course, this doesn’t have to be an in-depth, time-consuming task but rather a quick scan at the end of each meeting to confirm everything is documented.

Assign someone beforehand

The most important factor in taking meeting minutes is ensuring that someone is actually aware that they are doing this. Assuming people are making notes of their own accord is a mistake, as most of the time people will be too caught up in the meeting to efficiently do this.

Assigning the role to a set individual places accountability on them and ensures you aren’t left with no minutes at the end of the meeting. So, how do you choose someone to take meeting minutes?

Since the person taking meeting minutes may feel slightly more responsible than other members of the meeting, it is important to choose this in a fair way. 

Asking for volunteers at the start of the meeting is a fine way of doing this if you’re aware that there are members of your team who will be willing and able to do this. However, if you’re often met by a blanket of silence when you ask for volunteers, this is a sure-fire way to waste a few minutes of your meeting waiting for someone to cave in and agree to write minutes.

A better way to do this may be by rotating who will write the meeting minutes. If you have certain meetings that have a regular group of attendees then you can easily rotate the role of minute taker between these attendees. This lowers the risk of one person feeling targeted with the job every time and assures everyone can sharpen their skills in this area.

Alternatively, if you have an assistant or someone whose role it is to facilitate meetings, e.g. a Project Manager, then they are a superb candidate for this task.

Prepare for fantastic minutes

One common pitfall when it comes to meeting minutes is not adequately preparing to take them. The whole process of taking meeting minutes can be made simpler by forming a structure beforehand, something that can easily be done by mirroring a well-prepared meeting agenda.

As an agenda should feature clear points of discussion, questions or decisions that need to be made, a skeleton meeting minutes template can be formed from this.

Therefore, you can take the main discussion points and use them as headings. Follow this with a few bullet points reserved for key takeaways from the discussion and any actions formed off the back of this and you instantly have a solid and easy-to-follow meeting minutes structure.

It may also be worth adding a further ‘notes’ section to add anything that was discussed that is out-of-scope in regards to the meeting (although this should be kept to the minimum, where possible).

Having this type of template in place removes any obscurity when it comes to how to format meeting minutes, and will mean you’ve got consistency across your documents in the future. This means that if you need to refer back to older files in the future, you can instantly find what you need.

Include the basics

While it may seem like unnecessary extra work to note down the date of the meeting and who attended, this should always be done in your meeting minutes. This makes it much easier to file, find and refer to minutes if they should be needed in the future.

Being able to check who was present at the meeting will also mean that if you have a question regarding a decision that was made you know who you can ask, without having to check back through your emails and invite list!

Have clear set actions (with deadlines!)

If the meeting is a problem-solving meeting or brainstorming meeting, chances are you will leave the room with something to action. 

These actions should be clearly recorded in the meeting minutes, with the relevant attendees or out-of-scope personnel assigned to them within the document. There should also be deadlines set and mentioned in the minutes, so that team members are not only aware of their duties, but held accountable too!

If set actions do not have a clearly defined person to be accountable for them, assigning someone to them in the minutes is a good idea. This can be either temporarily (until they can find someone to action them) or permanently and will avoid the task getting lost or forgotten about.

Share the minutes 

A well thought out and incredibly written set of meeting minutes is useless if it isn’t shared with the team. After the meeting, the document should be tidied up (both in content and meeting minutes format) and filed into a relevant shared drive or folder.

Along with this, they should be sent out to the attendees of the meeting. However, if there are teams or stakeholders involved in your planned projects who weren’t present at the meeting, it might be worth sending the minutes over to them too so that everyone is on the same page. It’s also important to send the minutes to any person who was invited to the meeting but couldn’t attend.

Feedback and consistency

The most important thing to remember when adjusting your meeting minutes process is that consistency is key. Minutes work so much better for a team if they know what they’re looking for and where to find it with minimal effort. Therefore, crafting a consistent template and sticking to it will save your team time and streamline the process.

As with all meeting related changes, it is also important to gather, listen to and amend your processes based on your team feedback. If you get the feedback that the team are overwhelmed by the length of your meeting minutes, for example, take this on board and make the needed changes as soon as possible. 

Find out more on how to optimise your meetings with the next guide in our series: improving your meeting etiquette and engagement.

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