No one ever wants to do the meeting minutes. I remember being asked to take notes as a project manager and I got a bit offended. Did they ask because I'm a woman? Or was it because they still saw me as a junior member of the team? I politely declined.
But today I would respond differently. I'd see it as a chance to shine and show my tactical edge. Capturing the meeting outcome is a strategic task, and if you prepare right, your leadership skills will show before the meeting even begins.
Not all meetings are the same
We realise that not all meetings are the same. There are huge differences between the minutes format of a departmental status check on EU regulation implementation versus the Christmas party planning committee.
Some meeting minutes will be strictly formatted and highly technical: a joint effort between you and the engineers. At other times you’ll be able to create your own meeting template and lead the discussion.
What this post provides is a useful bottom line; a kind of skeleton you can customise and flesh out according to your needs.
More than scribe
So you’ve been asked to take the meeting minutes. And given that you’re here, we presume you don’t just want to rock up and write down what others say.
There are many places you can find meeting minutes templates online, but what we offer goes a step further. This post shows you how to go beyond the usual scope of the “scribe” and use the meeting to advance your career.
There are two main ideas that we believe in when it comes to meeting success:
1. do your prep and
2. work backwards.
Start with the outcome in mind
I don't mean the specific results of the meeting - everyone in the room should go in with an open mind. I mean being crystal clear about what you’ll discuss so you can make those decisions a lot quicker. Find out the answers to these questions before you send out the agenda:
What do we want to achieve?
Are you trying to agree on the new marketing strategy? The schedule of the annual conference? A shortlist of design candidates?
What does that look like?
Working with the conference example, are we expecting to walk out of the meeting with a ballpark date range, or the detailed schedule of each day down to the lunch options? This lets you work out what the agenda & the minutes need to cover.
Who needs to be there for that to happen?
Once you’ve defined the discussion points and the level of detail, it’s easy to see who needs to be there. Make sure you invite those people (trust me, it’s NOT a no-brainer… not that it ever happened to me of course...) and make sure they know what you’ll be discussing.
Reminder: the decisions should be made IN the meeting, and NOT before. If there's one thing we hate, it's an agenda.
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Have an agenda
See what we did there?
You shouldn’t go in with an ulterior motive, but as the scribe you SHOULD structure the meeting towards the desired outcome. An agenda creates a schedule, brings everyone on the same page and keeps you on track. Choose an agenda template that works for your meeting type. At the very least, it should contain the following:
- Meeting title:
- Date & time, location:
- Meeting agenda:
- Meeting objective:
- Who is invited:
- To discuss:
- Followup on the previous meeting:
Discussion item #1:
Discussion item #2:
- Desired outcome: (e.g. decision on a specific thing or a shortlist):
- AOB (any other business):
You can put these into a calendar invite – no need for a separate document. There are lots of meeting agenda samples online, but this bare bones agenda format provides enough detail for a productive meeting. Feel free to add to it if necessary. Send it out a few days before the meeting, but it’s even more important to display it during the meeting itself. To make sure discussions don’t run over, suggest using a Time Timer.
What to put in your meeting minutes
You’ve sent out the agenda, you’re in the room where it happens - and it’s time to shine. In a nutshell, your meeting minutes should cover:
- what’s been discussed and by whom,
- what’s been decided,
- who’s going to make it happen, and by when.
That’s simple enough. But it’s a fine art to fit in the things discussed that aren’t actually part of the agenda! Have dedicated sections for these and don’t let them derail the meeting.
What your minutes should contain depends on your specific company and project. However, if you need a meeting minutes template, the below example is a good starting point. It contains the bare minimum and it’s easy to customise.
Share what you’re capturing as you go
Here's how a meeting usually goes: the big wigs have a chat, talking over each other and making decisions on the fly, while more junior members stay quiet and someone takes notes in silence. After the meeting the scribe circulates the notes.
But for the meeting to be effective, the decisions should be collaborative and the minutes shouldn't be captured in isolation. Ask questions while taking notes and get buy-in as you go: “I’m noting down the social focus as the winner of the vote.” or “Confirming that RG is in charge of coming up with the name”.
This way there are not going to be any major surprises when you circulate the minutes. Send them to the main stakeholder(s) and decision maker(s), and once they are happy, fire them out to the whole group.
Don’t underestimate this step: If there's no agreement about the minutes, there's no agreement about the decision either. That can really snowball further down the line.
Keep it moving - workshop it!
You know us… we’ll shoehorn a workshop into whatever we can. That’s because we genuinely believe they improve 99% of meeting and decision-making situations.
If at all possible, volunteer to lead the meeting and sneak in a few exercises that help move things along. Here’s a handy post listing 5 productive workshop exercises you can seamlessly integrate into any meeting. See if there’s an appetite for that before the meeting so no one is taken by surprise. Other, more subtle ways you can keep things moving is displaying and referring to the agenda, using a TimeTimer to timebox discussions, and trying out the Note & Vote method to make quick and fair decisions.
We hope these tips have inspired you to supercharge your meeting minutes. Now get in that meeting room and show your strategic edge!