Chapter 2: Groups In Organizations
Bookends hold books up. Without them, the books tumble onto each other or off the shelf. The “bookends” of a meeting, likewise, are as important as the meeting itself. Without them, nobody knows beforehand what’s going to happen or remembers afterward what did. We’ve discussed the first major bookend of a meeting, its agenda. In this section we’ll turn our attention to the kinds of bookends that follow a meeting, including principally its minutes.
THE WHY AND HOW OF MEETING MINUTES
Among the exasperating experiences in group meetings are moments when people say, “We talked about this before—at least twice. Why are we going over the same ground again?” There are also those times when we hear, “John, you were supposed to report on this. What’s your report?” and John replies, “But I didn’t know I was supposed to make a report.”
Whether we like or believe it or not, our individual impressions of a meeting start changing and diverging the moment we leave the site. As one business writer noted, “Even with the ubiquitous tools of organization and sharing ideas…the capacity for misunderstanding is unlimited.”Matson, E. (1996, April-May). The seven sins of deadly meetings. Fast Company, 122.
Effective meeting minutes include the following:
- Date, location, time (start/stop), participants in attendance and those absent.
- Detailed account of significant discussion points and decision(s) made.
Minutes should be written for an audience needing to know what was discussed at a meeting. You dont have to capture everything everyone said in the meeting (like a transcript), but you should capture the essence of the discussion.
Good Example: The group talked about various types of fundraising events, and narrowed its focus to those that have a low overhead and are family friendly. Ideas that will be explore more fully include a fun run/walk, block party, and pony rides.
Bad Example: The group talked about fundraising.
- Action items.
Things that need to be done by meeting participants after the meeting need to be called out and identified as action items. Each action item should be set off on its own line, and include the task, who is responsible for the task, and when the task will be done.
Action item: All participants will write up a personal bio and submit it to HR by June 2, 2025.
Action item: Ted will contact the legal department to get guidelines for our new policy and email the information to the group by next Tuesday.
- Next steps
Summary of plans and procedures for the group.
Example: Members will work on their action items, and come to the next meeting ready to share out with committee. Committee chair will schedule the next meeting, and circulate the draft minutes for review and approval.
Recording minutes during the meeting
Recording communication in “real time” during a meeting is definitely a skill that takes practice. Below are some suggestion that help minute takers stay on track during the meeting:
1.Get the agenda
Before the meeting, get an agenda from the meeting facilitator so you can prepare yourself for the topics, and make a template to fill in during the meeting.
2. Decide what method of transcription works best for you
Some people like to record minutes on their computer during a meeting, while others like to take notes on paper. Decide what method works best for you. If you are considering tape-recording the meeting to help you fill in details when crafting the actual minutes, you should get consent from the meeting participates. Some states (e.g., Washington State) have informed consent laws about tape recording people.
3. Have plenty of space to record notes
Whether you chose to create a template based on the agenda or not, you will want to make sure you have plenty of room to record your minutes. Not everything you write down will go into your finalized minutes, but a good minute taker captures as much as they can during the meeting.
4. Record facts, not interpretations
While taking minutes you want to make sure that you record what people say, not how you feel about their statements. For example, you would write “Stacey suggested we all donate money to the food bank” as opposed to “Stacey had the ridiculous idea that everyone donate to the food bank.
5. Focus on major issues, actions and decisions, not on every comment made.
Your goal is to capture the bases of the discussion, not create a transcript. Action items need to be detailed and specific, but the rest of the minutes can summarize the general gist of the discussions.
6. Make sure you have the meeting participants and their names recorded accurately before the meeting adjourns.
7. Identify yourself as the minute taker
It is important to put your name at the bottom of the minutes, in case anyone needs to ask a clarifying question or request edits to the minutes.
Respectfully Submitted by [your name]
Have the meeting facilitator (or yourself as the person recording minutes) distribute minutes promptly. When and how you disseminate minutes shows whether and how much you care about what your group does. If your group has bylaws, it may be a good idea for them to include a time frame within which minutes of meetings need to be distributed (such as “within five days”).
Make sure your mailing list of people to receive minutes is up to date and accurate. This will ensure that no one misses the next meeting because he or she didn’t see when and where it was scheduled to take place.
Sloppy minutes degrade the value of the work and time people invest together. They can also weaken a group’s morale. Professional minutes, on the other hand, may even make people who weren’t at a meeting wish they had been—although that’s perhaps asking a lot, unless you served pizza!—and can strengthen your group’s pride and solidarity. As with meeting agendas, there are a wide variety of sample meeting minutes to review. Here’s a link to a Google search for meeting minutes.
If you’re the leader of the group, making sure that minutes are prepared and distributed well is only one step toward increasing the likelihood that your meetings will achieve their full potential of transmitting discussions into plans and plans into action. You should do three other things after a meeting.
First, you should contact group members who were identified in the minutes as being responsible for follow-up action. See if they need information, resources, or other help to follow through on their assignments. If a committee or subcommittee was asked to take action on some point, get in touch with whoever heads it and offer to provide materials or other support that may be needed to accomplish its work.
Second, you should set a positive example. Take a few minutes to reflect on how effective you were in facilitating the last meeting and ask yourself what you might change at the next one. Be sure, too, to implement any decisions in a timely fashion that you as the leader were given.
Third, you should make sure that the minutes of your group’s meetings are stored in secure form, either physically or digitally or both, so that they are available to both you and other group members at any time. Your group’s institutional memory, which is the foundation for future members to build upon, needs to be tended regularly and diligently. When in doubt, it’s better to hold onto information and documentation related to your group. Discarding something because you think to yourself “nobody will forget this” may very well turn out to be a mistake.
Observing these suggestions may not make the experiences associated with following up on group meetings heavenly, but it might at least keep them from being too hellish.
Key Takeaway: After a group meets, its leader should ensure that professional minutes are disseminated and that other members of the group follow through with their responsibilities.
- Review the minutes of 3–4 recent meetings of a local governmental agency such as a city council or parks commission. What portion of the text in each set of minutes, if any, do you feel could be eliminated without diminishing the effectiveness of the documents as records of the meetings? Write up a revised version of one of the sets of minutes which most efficiently conveys what was important in the meeting.