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In some situations, taking meeting minutes is a legal requirement. This includes council forums and, from a business point of view, all board meetings should be minuted, as should any meeting in which attendees are required to take a vote on any of the action points discussed.
Taking meeting minutes is an incredibly important part of running a business, and yet many people simply don’t know how to take minutes and a significant number of meeting attendees don’t really know what minutes are. Here’s everything you need to know about why minutes are taken, what kind of meetings require minutes and the all-important question: What are meeting minutes anyway?
What are Meeting Minutes?
Minutes are commonly considered to be a full transcript of everything that was said within a meeting, but this is not actually what meeting minutes are. You do not need to write down every word of a discussion, particularly any segments of the meeting that are not relevant outside of the context of the room, including general chit-chat. Instead, meeting minutes provide an overview of what has been discussed within a meeting. They summarise all of the main points of a discussion. Perhaps more significantly, meeting minutes also clearly outline any subsequent action points that were decided upon within the meeting, as well as who has been assigned the responsibility for following up on those action points, if relevant.
If you are given the responsibility of taking minutes within a meeting, then the three main elements of the meeting that you need to ensure are included within your notes are:
- What was decided on within the meeting?
- A clear description of what was accomplished within the meeting, including any accomplishments completed prior to the meeting that was discussed.
- The actions that need to be taken in the future.
Why are Minutes Taken?
There are many incredibly important reasons why minutes are taken in meetings. The most significant of these is that, from a legal perspective, meeting minutes give an organisation protection by recording both when and why decisions were made.
But other reasons why meeting minutes are so valuable include:
- They add structure to meetings and help to drive points of action. When minutes are created they are then distributed to all of the meeting attendees. This provides them with a clear record of the decisions made and the next steps required to put them into action. If someone has committed to moving an action point forward then it is clearly recorded in black and white. Minutes state clearly what is expected, when it needs doing, and who is responsible for moving that action forward. It holds people accountable and acts as a reminder of what they are expected to achieve before the next meeting.
- They clearly measure progress. Action points are included in the minutes for each meeting meaning that it is clear and easy to see if these actions have been achieved by the next meeting. This means that meeting minutes are a clear measure of success and progress, or otherwise. If something is rolled on to the next meeting time after time, you can clearly see that this is an area of concern or that a different department may be best suited to progress that action. And because all attendees need to read and approve the minutes from a meeting, this gives them a reminder of what they should be achieving.
- Everyone is held accountable. Accountability for decisions doesn’t fall on just one person when meetings are minuted, because everyone can vote for or against various motions, and because your vote is recorded (alongside how you voted) attendees have to take ownership of their decisions. They are held accountable for their actions and for the choices they make. Because voting decisions are public in this way, members of the board are forced to think very carefully before casting votes, because their choices will influence wider public perception of them. This can only benefit the organisation. In case of conflicts, minutes are useful to know what agreements were made and by who, giving a clearer picture of the dispute and the cause of it.
- The minutes of the previous meeting are used as the starting point for any following meetings. This provides attendees with the opportunity to go over the previous meeting minutes, with the intention of reminding every participant of what happened, what topics they discussed, and the decisions they made. Having all of this information available at your fingertips is incredibly useful, and will make your meetings more efficient, particularly for individuals who missed the previous meeting for any reason. Minutes serve as an integral record, keeping all invited attendees up to date with the progress of the business.
What Kind of Meetings Require Minutes?
There are many kinds of meetings that are legally required to keep minutes. The most significant of these are UK board meetings, which are required by law to have board meeting minutes taken. Meeting minutes must by law provide a record of motions, votes and abstentions, and this record is considered to be a legal document in the UK. This means that if you attend a board meeting for any business or charity, you will find someone attending that meeting who is taking minutes. This rule applies to both private and public companies.
Because they can serve as a vital form of evidence in legal proceedings, it is also recommended that meeting minutes are taken in a wide range of different f HR meetings. Some key examples of this include disciplinary meetings, meetings where grievances are being discussed, or meetings where the results of internal investigations are being shared. Meeting minutes should also be taken when individuals are being dismissed. The reason it is important to take minutes in these situations is that they can often contain sensitive and confidential details. To ensure that this sensitive information is kept confidential and that it is recorded accurately, minutes can ensure that both parties are clear about exactly what has been discussed and shared within the meeting. This will offer companies a level of protection if a situation escalates and becomes a legal concern, but it also offers protection for employees if the reason for their dismissal is deemed to be unfair, for example. A third of UK workers may have no protection against unfair dismissal, but comprehensive meeting minutes are one small way that they can secure this protection.
How to Take Minutes in a Meeting
If you have been assigned the task of taking minutes for a meeting then your success or failure will be determined not only by your actions within that meeting but how well you have prepared before the meeting, as well as your actions once it has taken place. Preparation is key to good minute-taking: you should research and have a clear understanding of the topic of the meeting and know what is going to be discussed. If you are asked to do so, you may need to produce an agenda for the meeting in advance of it taking place. Even if you are not asked to produce an agenda, you should write one for your own reference, as this will make it easier for you to follow the discussion, identify key points throughout the meeting, and take relevant notes. Your final minutes will be clearer and more structured if you take the time to write and then follow an agenda.
Some key elements that you should always include in your meeting minutes, in order to ensure they meet minimum legal requirements are:
- The date and time of the meeting, as well as the venue or location where the meeting was held.
- A detailed list of all of the meeting attendees. Anyone who was invited to attend the meeting but was unable to attend or who failed to attend should also be clearly outlined. You may choose to include job titles alongside the names of each attendee, but this is not always required.
- Any announcements that were made at the beginning of the meeting. This includes any references to the previous meeting minutes: common announcements include amendments to the minutes, acceptance of the minutes, or corrections to the minutes.
- The decisions made about each item should be included on the meeting agenda. This will differ from meeting to meeting, but some examples include an outline of agreed next steps, the actions that were either taken or agreed upon, any motions that had been accepted or rejected, the outcomes of any votes taken, and any items that weren’t discussed and were instead held over until the next meeting.
- You will also be required to outline anything that was discussed outside of the items included on the agenda. This is usually detailed under the heading of ‘any other business’.
- The agreed next meeting time and date.
- A list of any documents that are being included with the minutes, as well as attachments to these documents.
Keeping Accurate and Effective Minutes
Taking meeting minutes is a skill, and like any skill, your abilities will get better the more you practice. To help make taking notes a little easier, you should:
- Be able to identify key points. You shouldn’t be writing down everything that is said in a meeting. Instead, you should listen to each speaker and only write down the key points that they share. Knowing which points are the most important can take time and practice, but being prepared and doing some research on the topic of the meeting is the best way to achieve this. Reading example copies of previous meeting minutes is also a good way to identify which points are considered key and should be recorded.
- Preparation is key. As we have already mentioned above, preparing for your meeting by researching the topic and creating an agenda is the most important step in ensuring that your meeting minutes are accurate and that you record them successfully.
- Understand the importance of listening. Listening to what is being said is just as important as recording it when you are taking meeting minutes. Even though you are responsible for recording the meeting, it’s important that you still listen to and understand what is being said around you. Listening is an incredibly important skill and one that you should take the time to learn.
- Use minuting templates. It is not a sign of failure to use pre-prepared meeting templates. In fact, using templates can help to save you time and will also provide you with key points about what you should be recording, and how you should be recording it. There is a wide range of meeting minute templates available online that you can download, but if you’re looking for something a little more bespoke or you’re working within a niche sector where general templates might not be relevant then consider creating a template of your own. You will then be able to use this same template over and over again.
- Build a relationship with the chairperson. The chairperson is the individual who will organise and manage the meeting you are minuting. It’s important that you have spoken to them prior to the meeting so that you know what will be discussed in the meeting, what they feel the key points will be, and what support you might need throughout the process (do you need a list of attendees, for example, or have any queries about the meeting topic). By taking notes and producing the final minutes, you are providing the chairperson with a valuable service, so they should take the time to meet with you before each meeting. You should also sit next to the chairperson throughout the meeting: this will clearly signify to the other attendees that you are taking minutes and should put you in the best position to hear clearly what everyone has to say.
- Talk to the attendees. Whilst this is in no way a requirement for taking good meeting minutes, you may find it easier to take your notes if you have an understanding of who will be attending the meeting, what they want to discuss, and what they hope to gain from the meeting. Just like talking to the chairperson, talking to the attendees gives you a chance to ask any questions you may have, and this will only improve the quality of your meeting minutes.
- Type your notes after the meeting. Most individuals who are minuting a meeting prefer to do so by hand, but your final minutes document should be typed. You should type up your final minutes document as soon as possible, whilst all of the information is fresh in your memory. If you leave it too long you may forget what your shorthand notes mean, or miss out on something vital. It is also faster to type your notes as soon as possible after the meeting has finished, as it means you won’t have to go back over and read through your minutes to refamiliarise yourself with them.