Minutes: Who Needs ’em?

I’ve been somewhat surprised that blog posts I’ve done on agenda management have been among the mostly highly read. In a way, I shouldn’t be because if you strip all of the high-minded notions of strategy and execution, what’s left is the day-to-day, week-by-week, month-by-month mechanics of moving things along.

Since pretty much everyone is seemingly juggling a thousand priorities, and since there are almost inevitably a bazillion interdependencies across people, departments and organizations to bring anything to completion, there is a need for regular status meetings. Which is all well and good.

Until it comes to minutes.

Creating Minutes

Creating minutes. Photo: J. McLachlan

Webster’s dictionary defines them as: an official record of what was said and done at a meeting, convention, etc.

That’s very clear – until you think about the level of detail required. And whether anybody cares about them at all. Someone does the scribing and sends a note out to make sure everyone is happy with them, but nobody responds because nobody has read them.

Until there’s a disagreement about what was decided upon, and then there’s a scramble for the minutes. People who would rather open up and change decisions, or claim that they weren’t made in the first place, will have no leg to stand on.

Should the minute-taker make them almost a transcription of who said what or should they employ the classic, “discussion ensued”? Should there be explicit “action” items or should those be maintained separately in an action register?

As always, there is no single best approach; it depends on the situation and the size and importance of the meeting. Parliament is probably the best example of strict minute-taking via Hansard, but there is also real-time recording. Before there can be discussion, there must be a “motion” with at least one seconder to make sure that there is no frivolous waste of time on useless discussion that nobody else wants. Finally, votes are taken.

For most of us, the meetings are monthly management meetings or project status meetings. However, they can easily be making decisions on spending money.

My recommendations:

  1. As tempting as it is to do away with minutes, they should be maintained and owned by someone.
  2. Keep them at a medium level of detail; neither just a list of action items without any rationale, nor a verbatim recording of who said what (though there are exceptions here, too, if large amounts of money are being decided upon).
  3. Issue them as soon as possible after the meeting so that the odd person who cares actually does have an opportunity to correct the record if need be.
  4. Someone – the lead, the manager, the facilitator – uses the discrete action items in the minutes to keep on top of what needs to be done and to send reminders as required to the people assigned the action items.

Boring as they may be, minutes are a critical piece of glue between meetings, and can be an invaluable device to ensure momentum towards execution of strategy, not allowing people to backslide into conversations and debates that were already dealt with.

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