Essentials of Meeting Minutes

Four Essentials of Meeting Minutes

There are three critical components to facilitating great meetings: the workplan, the agenda and the meeting minutes. One of the clear signs of meeting effectiveness or ineffectiveness can be seen in the quality of meeting minutes. If after reading this first sentence you are saying to yourself, “what meeting minutes?” –don’t feel embarrassed. Many teams manage meetings without minutes or get by with minutes that are nothing more than a collection of sketchy, random thoughts filtered through the brain sieve of the note taker. But just because you are part of a crowd and don’t need to be embarrassed it does not let you off the hook either.

I will say it again. The quality of meeting minutes is a sign of meeting effectiveness. Think back to your experience in meetings without good minutes. How many times did the team ask each other, “didn’t we make a decision on this last month?” or “I thought you were going to do that?” or “what was on that spreadsheet we handed out last month?” — Oh, that efficiency. I get it.

So let’s back up and talk about the purpose of meeting minutes because in my mind efficiency is the purpose of meeting minutes. In my world, I believe that for functional teams meeting minutes serve as a “relay race baton” between the past, the present and the future. When a team meets on a regular basis and spend a couple hours over a period of weeks minutes should document the progressive motion of the team –here is what we said needed to be done; here is what we did and are doing; and here is what needs to happen next. You can almost feel the motion and the efficiency. So why do we equate taking minutes with flossing our teeth in terms of the priority we give it (okay you religious teeth flossers out there, I would bet money that you already take great meeting minutes)? Part of the reason is because when meetings are put together well then there is an inherent accountability that can be uncomfortable. Going back to our metaphor, if meeting minutes are a relay race baton then it is up to us to grab the baton, run with it, and appropriately pass it on to other team members. In other words it is easy work to review a collection of sketchy, random thoughts filtered through the brain sieve of the note taker but it quite another responsibility to hold a relay race baton in your hands.

So if this metaphor holds true the baton of meeting minutes needs to have substance. This brings us to the four essentials of meeting minutes.

1.  Summary: The most common and essential element of meeting minutes is the summary. The summary is being able to succinctly describe the big picture of what happened at the meeting. However, in addition to the summary I believe that there are three other important elements of meeting minutes that conveniently all start with the letter A.

2.  Agreements are the second essential elements to meeting minutes. Following a meeting you not only want to what happened but also what agreements and decisions were made and how they were made. Agreements are the markers of progress and indicate motion. Ensuring that all agreements and decisions are captured in the meeting keeps the group from asking, “what did we decide again?” It is also helpful for team-building and keeping people accountable to the group process to record how the decision was made. Was the decision or agreement made by consensus, or simple majority, or was it an announced decision by one person? Capturing the agreement-making process helps a team understand who is really responsible for the agreement and how power is distributed among the group.

3.  Actions The third essential element of meeting minutes are the Actions that are connected to the agreement. So an agreement might be, “the team decided by consensus to revise the organizational policy about pets in the office” and the subsequent action might be, “Joe and Judy will revise the policy by the next meeting.” Again, meeting minutes are relay race batons that track motion. Agreements don’t live until there are actions connected to them.

4.  Accountability: The final essential element to meeting minutes is Accountability. Accountability how you know when the action is complete or it defines what mechanism ensures progress, quality or other outcomes associated with the agreements and actions.

Like most aspects of organizational change, it is challenging to confront and shift the culture of teams and the entrenched practices. However, if you have the courage to change, the benefits of moving to a different practice will be measurable.

If you are need a template for meeting minutes, I have posted two for your non-commercial use.


Photo: Violleta

Mark Fulop
Mark founded Facilitation & Process in 2009 to help organizations and communities bridge the gap between where they are today and where they want to be tomorrow. He’s led dozens of Portland nonprofits, government agencies and philanthropic organizations through complex change initiatives including strategic planning, revenue planning, board development, collaboration, and facilitation.