Meeting minutes can cause problems for teams. It may be difficult to get a member to volunteer to take the minutes. Getting someone to type them or be responsible for their distribution can be problematic. What is even worse, however, is that our minutes can actually harm our meetings.
We often see committees whose minutes contain most of the dialog of the meeting. They tell precisely who said what about each item on the agenda and who said it. While this may seem appropriate, it can be a problem.
Committees should be working together to solve problems. Doing so requires open discussions and sharing of information. Often, people will be reluctant to do this if they know their names will be attached in writing to their comments. They may be concerned what they say could be misinterpreted by those not in attendance or may not be considered “appropriate” for someone of their role in the organization.
As a result, members may not offer information vital to effectively resolving the issue. When this happens, the entire committee is hurt.
Some committees begin their meetings by reviewing the minutes of the last session (this is not necessarily the most effective way to accomplish this.) We have seen committee members use this time to “un-say” some of their comments in the last meeting, asking their remarks be deleted from the minutes so they will not be responsible for the comments.
The most effective committees with which we have worked are characterized by completely open discussions focused on solving problems. Even with labor-management teams, it would be impossible to determine which side members are representing based on their comments. They openly work and communicate in an atmosphere of trust not jeopardized by the content of their meeting minutes.
We recommend your meeting minutes be very abbreviated, containing the name of the committee, the date and time of the meeting, and a list of those in attendance. For each item discussed, report:
- The name of the item or issue under discussion.
- A brief summary of the discussion without names or specific quotes. This will normally be mo more than a couple of sentences.
- An update on what the committee is doing next with the item, such as gathering more information, seeking constituent input, brainstorming options, or wherever they are in the problem-solving process.
- A statement of what the team has decided or how it is implementing their decision.
- A listing of who is responsible for upcoming steps.
Conclude your minutes with a list the date, time, and location of the next meeting and the agenda for that meeting.
That is all we normally need. Minutes using this format are short, yet provide a record of what the team is doing or has decided. They provide information for everyone else in the organization. This format eliminates “he said-she said” attempts to trap others with their comments.
Minutes of this type are easier to take, making members more willing to undertake the process. If flipcharts or smartboards are used during the meeting, they may contain all of the information for the minutes.
Consider the impact your committee’s minutes may be having on their progress. Contact CALMC if you would like more information or sample forms your team can use for your minutes.