Taking Minutes: Part I
This article is written to help candidates who are pursuing their qualification in Business and Administration. This does not mean that it will not be helpful/useful to others. This article will benefit anyone who works for a business or organisation and takes minutes for producing accurate records of discussions and decisions taken during meetings and action logging as part of their job role.
In order to be able to take minutes at a meeting, one should possess good communication skills, evaluation skills, interpersonal skills, organising and planning skills. Minute taking is not just sitting down at a meeting and writing notes. It involves a lot of preparation prior to and after the meeting and also a lot of skills to come out with the best record of minutes.
Before the meeting actually takes place, one needs to prepare for the meeting in terms of venue, attendees, agenda, refreshments, access requirements and documents needed. For any presentations, you need to be ready with all the equipment like laptop, overhead projectors, the materials and documents necessary to present the ideas.
Before the meeting starts, make a note of any last-minute changes to the agenda. Always keep a copy of matters that arose in the last meeting and the action points. While taking minutes, it is best to have a template that is relevant to the organisation’s requirements, style and standards.
On completion of this unit the candidate will have a good knowledge of the role of meetings, why meetings are held, the legal and organisational requirements that may apply to taking minutes, why minutes are taken and their benefits, the reason why minutes have to be accurate and the different documents used in meetings as part of the minute taking process, prior and post meeting.
Candidates will also have knowledge about the different types of minutes and the writing styles for minutes, how to structure the minutes and write them with the correct tone of language and also how to store and the purpose of storing them safely and securely. These are discussed in the third part of this series.
Before starting this unit, one needs to know the definition or meaning of minutes.
Minutes are formal documents, and they are the summary of records of a meeting. They are accurate and contain information about what was discussed in a meeting, what the recommendations were, the decisions of discussions and their action points.
Well-written minutes will be brief, accurate and informative, and they will be logically presented with clear discussions, recommendations, decisions and action points.
The Role of Meetings
Dictionary defines meeting as “A formally arranged gathering” or “The social act of assembling for some common purpose.”
Meeting is a gathering of two or more people for discussions, information sharing and to reach on an agreement. Meetings can take place in various ways like face-to-face, conference calls, video conference, etc. A meeting should not be a waste of time and be effective. Effective meetings happen with proper planning and should have a purpose and outcome.
The roles of meetings are:
- To coordinate action, for a joint agreed decision.
- To reach decisions more quickly than with phone calls and emails. For example it can be frustrating ringing people and leaving voicemails or emailing them and waiting for a reply for a long time.
- To save time, for example, something that took you more than 15 minutes to write on an email which could still be unclear to the recipient, can be talked through in two minutes if you meet face-to-face.
- To share information, to gain or seek ideas and information and clarify things.
- To resolve issues or any problems and plan working strategies.
- To discuss organisational or departmental matters in a detailed manner, when this can be difficult through email communications.
- To avoid confusion, conflicts and discrepancies.
- To discuss projects or anything to do with work and ways to do it.
- To clarify and sort out conflicts and settle disputes.
- To take decisions on matters discussed and to help track actions against any decisions made in the past.
- To help make decisions faster, as everyone is available in one place to discus and decide.
- To negotiate on contracts and agreements depending on the organisation or matters involved.
- To give everyone a chance to speak and voice their thoughts and ideas.
- To take emergency decisions and actions in times of need - crisis management.
- To help with team building and motivation.
- To help set targets and objectives.
In general, the role of the meeting is to carry out certain important discussions and take decisions by bringing in all the involved members together in one place. This will avoid the many number of phone calls, emails and the confusions involved, helping to take clear cut decisions and assign actions to the relevant person or people or department.
Legal and Organisational Requirements That May Apply to Taking Minutes
Meeting minutes have to meet the legal and organisational requirements of the organisation, for many reasons.
The minimum requirements that are expected of the minutes are, details on
- Where the meeting took place?
- When the meeting took place including date and time?
- Who were present in the meeting and their different roles in the meeting?
- Who were absent?
- How the meeting took place?
- What happened at the meeting?
- What was discussed at the meeting?
- What was decided and the official action points of the discussions and decisions?
Minutes serve as legal binding documents in many situations and in many organisations and can be produced as evidence of certain discussions and decisions when there are legal challenges in the future.
The minutes need to have the date of next meeting at the end, and where possible the time and venue as well. The minutes need to document the presence of a quorum, as most valid decisions need a minimum number of people in order to make a decision. For example, in my organisation, when decisions are taken in a team meeting by the Operations Manager, they expect a team leader to be present in order for the decision to be valid as part of the legal and organisational requirement of our organisation.
The Benefits of Minutes as an Accurate Record of Discussions and Decisions
Minutes are taken in both formal and informal meetings, and the meeting can be a brief meeting or committee/board meeting or a group discussion, etc. The style of minutes varies with purpose.
Minutes are a record of an event or meeting and hence recorded to have a formal proof of what happened, or what was discussed and decided in a meeting. It helps people who were not able to attend the meeting and also helps the organisation or company for future references. For this reason, minutes have to be accurate.
The purpose and benefits of minutes as an accurate record of discussions and decisions are:
- Many companies will not only have the minutes recorded for their own reference and record, but will also have to share these information with their partnership companies and share holders. In these cases, minutes provide evidence for occurrence of meetings and also reflect the quality and standards of the organisation.
- They provide a record of discussions and decisions and hence serve as memory and history of the organisation.
- Minutes will need to be shared with the public when it comes to public governing bodies. So the records of the meeting will be available for the public to see as people will want to know the results of meetings and discussions and how they were taken.
- Minutes can be used to monitor the decisions and actions mentioned in case there is a conflict in the future.
- There will be action points in minutes that need to be actioned and these will help with changes and improvements for the organisation and hence minutes will be a reminder of those actions, the person who needs to action them and within what timeframe it needs to be actioned.
- Sharing minutes with the concerned people who were not able to attend, will keep them informed of any changes, discussions and decisions.
- In general, these minutes help the organisation grow and also help build the departments and team members.
Documents Commonly Used in Meetings: Agendas, Minutes, Matters Arising, Action Sheets
For any meeting to take place in a procedural way, there are a few important and necessary documents involved without which the meeting will not go smoothly.
The necessary documents for a meeting are:
Agenda – An agenda is a document that is created by either a secretary or an administrator or anyone in a similar position or job role. It is then approved by the chair person and circulated to the other members who will be attending the meeting. It can be distributed either electronically or as hard copies. It is always best to have a few spare copies.
Agenda has details of the name of the meeting, meeting date, time of meeting and the venue of meeting at the top. It is then followed by the attendees, apologies and visitors / speakers. Then follows the agenda items, where urgent and important matters are listed on top of the list. Mandatory items on the agenda list are, previous minutes or Confirmation of previous minutes, matters arising and any other business. The rest are the items gathered from relevant members involved with the meeting.
Attendance sheet – This document is a list of all the attendees in the meeting. To have accurate details, a few columns are included like, Name, Position, Contact number, Email address. This will help the minute taker with writing down names in minutes and also will help with contacting them easily when necessary, especially when there are external members attending the meeting. Please see a format to the right that I use in my organisation for attendance.
This is not usually used for internal meetings, but used for meetings where external customers or partnership organisations are involved. But it is always good to have one where so many members or different departments are attending a meeting and there may be people who you do not recognise. This also cuts down your time on writing down the list of attendees especially when there are a large number of attendees.
Glossary of terms and acronyms – If the meeting will include discussion of business where technical terms and acronyms will be used, and if there are attendees who will not be familiar with those terms and acronyms, it is always best to give a list of these with a brief description or meaning. This will help them follow the meeting with ease and stop too many unnecessary interruptions.
Code of ethics/codes of conduct – This is not used in all meetings, but can be used in board meetings, and meetings where public are involved etc. This is a set of principles and expectations that are set out to the members, by which they have to adhere to, when participating in the meeting. It is set out for the smooth and success functionality of the meeting. In some meetings it is used to preserve freedom of speech.
Previous minutes – These are minutes from the previous meeting and are brought in to the meeting to be read out and confirmed. Also the action points from the previous meeting are checked to see if they have been actioned, or at what status the actions are, if not actioned, the reasons for that are gathered and noted down in the minutes along with necessary actions or decisions.
Taking notes (Minutes) – Taking notes is the step towards preparing the minutes. This is the main document in a meeting as everything that takes place or is discussed or decided is recorded. Notes are taken down by secretaries or administrators or a similar office person and they are written down in an agreed style following organisations policies and procedures. A template can be used for ease of note-taking.
Attachments to minutes – Sometimes in meetings, a policy or procedure or a report may have to be read out and agreed. In this case, this document will be brought into the meeting read out to the members and this will have to be attached to the minutes. Details on how this is done will be discussed in a different section of this unit.
Presentation papers – Some meetings will have presentation papers. Although presentations are done on a large screen with overhead projectors, it is always good to give all the attendees a copy, so that they have a record of what was presented, and also it will help them note down important points that will be useful or helpful for them for future reference as the presentation goes on.
Action sheets – This sheet is not mandatory, but for clarity and for being properly organised, what you can do is, collect all the action points from the previous meeting and mention the status across each of them, so that it is easier to go through them during the meeting. Also any action points for the current meeting can be noted down on that sheet, while some actions may have links with previous actions. It will also be easier at the end of the meeting to summarise all the action points from this sheet. This is however not mandatory. Different people function differently, so you can use any methods that are convenient and that will make processes simpler and easier for you.
Apart from these, depending on the meeting and its purpose, various other documents like notice of meeting, financial reports, research reports, project reports, correspondence, chairperson’s report etc., can be documents used in a meeting.
Please follow the link below to navigate to the next part of this unit, where the role of the meeting chair and their responsibilities, how the minute taker works together with the chair during the meeting, how to listen effectively and take notes and the purpose of clarifying any doubts during the meeting are discussed.
I hope this has been of some help to you. Thank you for reading. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any queries or any feedback relative to this article. If you feel that it is does not cover the relevant topics, please feedback!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.