Informal minute taking (or why you shouldn't play Words With Friends during a meeting)
I was sitting in our company’s monthly informational/pep-rally meeting one day, minding my own business and trying to make out my grocery list when I heard my name being called.
“Olivia, would you please take the meeting minutes this morning?”
I said to myself, “whaaat?”
Why do we need minutes anyway and how do you take them without copious scribbling, hand cramps and documenting misinformation?
Taking the minutes of a meeting are simply notes to remind the attendees what was discussed during the meeting. They should be accurate, readable and quick to scan through.
It’s useful to have a written record of almost any meeting (regularly scheduled, an emergency one or an add-on meeting focusing on a singular issue), however banal it seems to appear. As the designated minute-taker in an informal meeting, your role may also dictate that you participate in the meeting, especially in a small group setting.
Objectives of the minutes are:
- Having a written record of the meeting and attendees
- Stating what you would like to accomplish
- Listing who is going to be responsible for each task
- Keeping absentee co-workers up to date
- Goals for the next meeting
A good meeting is one that has a prepared agenda with outcomes expected, timely goal setting and participation by all. Following the helpful tips below will make sure that everyone benefits from shared goal setting and a work place community that works as a team.
- Most people in an informal setting use paper and pen to jot rough notes. If you have access to using a laptop or mini-recorder….great! However, having a back up of pencil and paper covers you if someone forgot to recharge that battery.
- It’s helpful to have the minutes of the last meeting handy for quick reference in case you need to refresh memories on past decisions. A quick overview of the last meeting by the minute taker provides continuity in ongoing discussions and proposed plans of action.
- At the top of the paper list; date, time, place, attendees, absentees and the moderator. If a more formal approach is desired, there are templates available online for both formal and informal minute taking.
- If the numbers attending are small, it might help to draw a seating plan so you can refer to it as you note who-said-what.
- Divide paper so that you have a column down one side to note who will be doing each task.
- Keep notes to key themes, you don’t need every little detail or point.
- Note key outcomes with decisions made, actions agreed upon and the persons responsible for the task, upcoming deadlines and any open issues for ongoing or future discussions.
- Set a time frame and stick to it. The minute takers are often the timekeepers so it’s appreciated when the meeting wraps up on time.
- Take rough notes; clean it up later and write-up neatly. Distribute the write-up as soon as possible while it’s fresh in your mind, same day if possible. Always keep copies of documents or a back up of the minutes. Document, document, document!
While you may not get your to-do list done at your next meeting, participating in an active role as minute taker will help you develop good listening skills, identify objectives quickly and communicate the meeting outcomes concisely and accurately. The added benefit of helping to shape company goals and facilitate outcomes just might get you that much-needed raise!