What You Need to Know for Taking Minutes

by Rhonda Scharf

minute-taking-tips-IAAPIf you’re like most people, you hate taking minutes. Some call in sick, others trade with coworkers (if you take my minutes, I’ll clean your oven!), yet most walk into the meeting with a sick feeling in their stomach, their pulse racing, and a thin sheen of sweat on their forehead.

Why? Because for the most part, we don’t know what we are doing when we are taking minutes. We are typically following the example of the minutes from the person in front of us (who is following the example of the person in front of them) and so on. It is our meeting version of the game “Telephone.”

Record What is Important

And as you can imagine, it doesn’t have to be that difficult. Here are a few guidelines about taking minutes that will make it easier for you.

Minutes are a written, permanent, formal record of what transpires during a meeting, They are not a verbatim account, so we should not be writing our minutes by creating a transcript. Just because it happened doesn’t mean we need to record it.

Ask yourself this question: “Will this matter in two minutes, two hours, two days, two weeks, two months, two years?” And if the answer is yes, then it must be recorded in the minutes.

It doesn’t matter that the Chair welcomed us to the meeting. The Chair should welcome us to the meeting, but it is not necessary for the formal record that we record this. It doesn’t matter in two weeks if we were welcomed or not right? The Chair could say “Let’s get started” and that would be good enough.

It probably does matter (on the more formal meetings) that the meeting started at 9:03; recording starting time is a good idea.

If you think through your last meeting (and the accompanying minutes) you probably recorded a lot of things just because they happened. That makes it more of a transcript than minutes. Only record what is going to matter in corporate history: What was done, why it was done. Not who said what.

Record the Discussions Surrounding Decisions

Any decisions made naturally matter in the future; but so does a summary of the discussion around that decision.

Let’s assume you decided to give all employees a day off in recognition of their birthday. The fact that decision was made is clearly important. But so is the discussion around that decision.

For instance:

On a motion made by Rhonda, and seconded by George: “All employees shall receive the day of their birthday as a bonus vacation day effective January 1, 2017”

MOTION CARRIED

Stopping at that point isn’t good enough. We need to know the discussion around the decision (minutes are a collection of the decisions made and the discussion behind them).

It doesn’t matter that “Bob said he felt that was good for morale, but Mary felt that was a waste of company money”. Those comments are important to Bob and Mary, but as far as the corporate history is concerned, the statements are necessary, but who said them is not (honestly, that is much more about ego isn’t it?).

On a motion made by Rhonda, and seconded by George: “All employees shall receive the day of their birthday as a bonus vacation day effective January 1, 2017.”

MOTION CARRIED

Discussion:

  • a good morale booster
  • hiring incentive
  • costing the company extra money
  • not sure it is fair
  • what about those who have statutory holidays as birthdays
  • concern about birthdays on weekends

We captured the decision (motion carried), and we summarized the discussion around the decision. This way in the future when someone asks “Why do we give people their birthday off,” we actually have the real reason.

You did notice that in the decision list, I just didn’t support the decision (all the reasons why having your birthday off is a good idea), I summarized all the points discussion.

Discussions are Important, Who Stated What is Not

It really doesn’t matter what Bob or Mary thought about the exam motion above, it matters that we discussed the issue and made a decision. Will it matter in two days, two weeks, or two months that Bob thinks that this was good for morale? No, it doesn’t. The fact that is was mentioned that it was good for morale means that it helped influence the decision (as did the discussion about birthdays on the weekend).

Keep your formal record formal. Think of minutes as a history document. What happened, what was decided, what impacts the company anywhere in the future. Stay away from who said what, and feeling the need to record every little thing that happened.


Want to learn more about minute taking? Come out to my session at IAAP Summit 2017 entitled Introduction to Minute Taking. Register today and attend the best conference for office and administrative professionals.

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