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Meeting minutes – the importance of minuting and benefits of independence

In this article we explore the importance of minuting meetings or note taking, and why having an independent note taker should be considered.

Traditionally, meetings were minuted by the secretary or other appointed person for the purpose of recording the salient or detailed points, decisions, and outcomes. The secretary would begin by recording details of those present, apologies from those unable to attend, and nowadays, noting electronic attendance via skype, video call, teleconference or similar. The Chair would work through a pre-prepared agenda and the secretary would record who said what. After the meeting, the notes would be typed and circulated for information. Aside from technological advances such as electronic attendance for example, little has changed in this regard.

However, here are some points to consider when preparing for the meeting in relation to the minutes:

Who will be taking the notes? Who will organise the meeting, venue, refreshments, invite participants, record responses? Who will remind the participants to forward their papers or supporting information? Who will be preparing / collating / circulating the papers in readiness for the meeting? Who will the note taker report to? (usually the Chair in the first instance) What is the expected turnaround time for the notes? (for example, our policy is 48hrs but this can depend on the length and complexity of the meeting) Who will distribute the notes and associated documents to the participants following the meeting? Confidentiality, what are the expectations and does a separate agreement need to be in place? Where an independent note taker is concerned, what are the contract terms and who will take responsibility for signing it?

Some prefer to electronically record the meeting in addition to taking notes for reference purposes but it should always be declared before the meeting commences that this will happen and what is to happen to the recording once the minutes are approved. It is also considered good practice to record this in the minutes too.

Independent note taking is not reserved exclusively for Board level meetings or AGM’s, and should be considered in all formal, and perhaps some informal, circumstances. Examples include HR related meetings such as grievance, disciplinary, and redundancy matters, as well as organisational team meetings at all levels.

The are many benefits of utilising an independent note taker for your meeting, here are some examples to consider:

Participation

Relying on a participant to take the minutes, record the proceedings, and also participate presents a number of challenges. An independent note taker is not involved in the politics of the business or individuals concerned and will record without judgement. Thus allowing the participants to speak and listen freely without concerns. Talking and note taking at the same time is a major feat and should be taken in to account. Saving money at the outset may cost in the long term.

Efficiency

Our policy is to submit minutes to the Chair within 48 hours. However, this can depend on the length and complexity of the meeting. Other factors will include additional papers not being shared with the note taker or lack of clarity in terms of the procedure (see above questions for consideration). When this is undertaken by a team member, post-meeting work, including typing up of minutes and chasing people for information, must be taken in to consideration in their workload and respected by other colleagues. As independent note takers we reassure clients that we are not concerned with the politics of their business, we come in, take notes, leave, and email the typed version within an agreed time. Post-meeting tasks are always factored in as we are not involved with any other aspect of the business, as such, dedicated time is guaranteed.

Accountability

Effectively recording the meeting contributes to the accountability process. Recording who said what provides clarity, once the minutes are shared participants can refresh on what they agreed to do and the time scales discussed. These can be used to prepare the next meeting agenda or projects lists. Absent colleagues will also be aware of what was discussed without fear of missing out and colleagues having to ‘fill them in’. Minutes also highlight what was not discussed or items that need to be flagged up for next time, for example, a deadline, or a task left undelegated or not clearly identified. The minutes are not a stick with which to beat a colleague, but they can help to identify where tasks are not being met and contribute to the action plan to resolve the issue.

Dignity

Whilst awareness continues to increase in this regard, it is easy to overlook in the board room or meeting. This is not intentional, but in the haste to get through a meeting, choosing a volunteer to take the minutes can be equally hasty. One must consider the nature of the meeting that is to take place and the person who will be responsible to note take. A note taker will be privy to all that is discussed. For internal colleagues, that person and the meeting participants need to work together afterwards. For example, at Board meetings where strategic decisions will be made, having a team member to take the minutes may deter participants from speaking freely. This is especially the case in HR meetings such as a grievance, disciplinary or other HR matters. Having a colleague present hearing all the gory details is not ideal and may deter those taking part in saying what really happened or how they really feel. In both scenarios, remember the note taker needs to work with the participants and others who may have been discussed at the meeting, including their friends. Even where the note taker is a recognised ‘soul of discretion’, knowledge, perceived or otherwise, can be a burden over time and impact on relationships.

In summary, selecting a note taker should be considered as important as selecting the meeting participants. As discussed above, there are many factors to consider and finding the right person is crucial. The note taker may be a colleague or independent individual, but the nature of the meeting and the participant’s need to speak freely must be considered. Remember, the note taker will be privy to all that is discussed so expectations surrounding the meeting, related work, and confidentiality must be clear before the meeting takes place. It may also be a thought to reassure your colleagues that in selecting an independent note taker the above benefits apply to them also and is not a reflection on them, their integrity, or ability to carry out the role, you may find they are actually relieved!