In an earlier article, I wrote about the origin of the less is more philosophy, which speaks to achieving elegance without excess. I imagine that few of us approach the preparation of minutes with words such as elegance in mind, but why not? If you’ve ever had occasion to review minutes of months or even years past to clarify historical information or decision making, you’ll appreciate quality work.
Recording standards have evolved; have yours?
Recording styles and standards have evolved with time, and I readily admit to cringing in looking at some of my early work through the lens of today’s standards.
It’s readily apparent when an organisation has benefitted from an effective recorder. By effective, I mean someone who has the confidence to apply a rational approach to understanding and documenting those matters that should be recorded for posterity, and capacity to understand what is superfluous. The exceptional assistant does all this with not only elegance, but also a clear understanding of the purpose of the document.
Distinguish between what needs to be recorded, and the superfluous
So, rather than recording meeting minutes as a necessary evil, try approaching the responsibility from the perspectives of how the core principles of confidence, rationality and even elegance apply to your minutes.
Accrue Knowledge and Perspective to Build Confidence
Invest time in understanding context. Have you ever attended a meeting and wondered how on earth you would effectively record it when you didn’t understand half the acronyms and insiders’ language being used around the table, let alone the business context? I let this happen once in my early days and, after struggling through that endeavour, I developed an ever-evolving list of acronyms, and scoured everything I could put my hands on to better understand the business context.
You won’t have all the insights overnight, nor should you expect that to be the case. You should, however, make developing such insights a priority.
If you’re new in your role, invest time in reviewing at least the previous year’s meeting agendas and minutes in order to have some perspective before attending your first meeting. Carve out time to read the full agenda package rather than limiting your role to assembling and circulating the package. Then, ask the Chair for some time in advance of the meeting so you can gain his or her insights where needed.
People want concise, clear records reflecting decisions and meeting outcomes
Less is more. Whether you’re recording meetings attended by colleagues or externals, be they paid or volunteer, you’re working with busy people. Increasingly, although verbatim minutes represent a past standard, busy professionals do not want or need their meetings recorded verbatim. Such people are typically seeking concise, clear records of meetings that reflect decisions made, actions taken and commitments made.
Support Active Participation in Meetings
Think about the people who participate in your meetings. Have you considered that your work has potential to impact their readiness to participate during meetings?
The quality of your recording has a significant impact on participants’ sense of safety and confidence in their capacity to actively participate without being penalized by unwanted or inappropriate attributions within the minutes. In other words, protect the innocent, the misunderstood, those prone to protracted explanations, and everyone else.
Refrain from unnecessary attribution of statements
Think about committee or volunteer council/board work you’ve undertaken; didn’t you want to feel safe in expressing your views without the potential for your remarks to come back and bite you, or your intent misinterpreted? Craft your minutes in a manner that provides that same confidence and security for those who participate in the meetings you record.
Whether or not your minutes are accessible through freedom of information, “sunshine” or other legislation, consider the enhanced calibre of deliberations and debate in which people will engage when a meeting is recorded without attribution of statements to individuals. When I record a key message or direction that is intended to be included in minutes, I tend to reference “committee members” or “the board”, rather than individuals.
You Have a Voice; Use It
Speak up and reach out to resolve matters that adversely impact your capacity to produce solid minutes. Despite working with outstanding people, there are no doubt occasions when you find an individual’s voice quiet or unclear, or a plan muddied rather than lucid.
If you’re having difficulty hearing a low talker, others may be experiencing the same challenge
If it’s not just a matter of your hearing capacity, and you’re having difficulty hearing a low talker, chances are that others are experiencing the same challenge. What to do? You may assign seating, in which case you can consistently seat a quiet speaker in a location that maximises capacity to hear and record him or her. You may do all involved a professional courtesy, though, by constructively and graciously approaching the quiet person offline to encourage him/her to speak with more volume.
Secure and publish proposed resolutions/motions in the agenda
Wherever possible, prepare or secure the wording of motions in advance, and include them in your agendas. Discussion can be more focused when people begin with an understanding of the intended goal. Sometimes, discussions and motions move at a rapid pace during meetings. If discussion and debate unfold at a rapid pace and direction is unclear, you perform best if you are prepared to seek clarity.
If your executive affords you voice at the table, ensure others aren’t surprised to hear you speak up
Does your organisation/boss want you to have voice during meetings? If so, ensure that the other participants understand this. Otherwise, there’s potential for them to view it as inappropriate when you offer insights or guidance. Check and, if necessary, engage your executive or Chair to ensure there’s a shared understanding; you can do your best by your organisation if all participants are aware that it is appropriate for you to speak up when appropriate.