recording formal discussions and decision making
Minutes of meetings
Lots of organisations, groups, and businesses have meetings where a record needs to be kept of the proceedings and decisions made. Somebody in each case needs to write the minutes of meetings.
- an informal meeting of hobby club members
- the annual general meeting of a charity
- a formal meeting of school governors
- director’s meetings of small or large companies
The written record of these events are called the ‘minutes of meetings’.
The purpose of taking minutes of the meeting is more or less the same in each case – to keep an accurate record of events for future possible reference.
- when it took place,
- who was in attendance
- who was absent
- what was discussed
- what decisions were made
The minutes of meetings are a record of discussions and decisions, and over time they might form an important historical record (in the case of a government’s war cabinet for instance).
There might also be a legal requirement for sets of minutes to be produced in an organisation – as in the case of a charity, a bank, or a limited company.
How much detail?
The amount of detail recorded will depend upon the type of meeting and maybe its historical culture. Some organisations like to have a record that captures the spirit of the discussions that took place; others put their emphasis on the decisions that are made.
One thing is certain: the person taking the minutes is not expected to give a dramatic or poetic description of what takes place. The minutes of a meeting are a summary, recording its most important features.
You can get an idea of the culture and style of the group by looking at the minutes of previous meetings. These will give you a guide to the amount of detail normally required and the way in which decisions are recorded.
Different types of meetings record these details in various styles. A group of parents running a children’s football team does not require the same degree of formality as a managing board of company directors. Roughly speaking, there are three types of minute taking
These will give a brief information on time-date-place, who was present, and details of decisions or resolutions passed. These can often be compressed onto a single side of A4 paper.
A document of several pages, with headings and sub-headings, and maybe numbered points. These might provide a record of the discussion in summarized form, along with named individuals given specific responsibilities, plus any deadlines for action.
The Role of a Minutes Secretary
The minutes of a meeting are normally taken by the secretary, whilst the chair conducts the meeting.
It is the role of the chair to set the agenda, introduce items, and decide who speaks to the issues.
In a very big organisation the secretary might delegate the actual recording of events to an assistant or clerk.
It’s important that the minutes secretary follows the progress of the meeting carefully, recording major items of debate and decisions that are taken. The published agenda is a useful template by which to take notes during the meeting. This keeps the order of topics and the structure of the meeting intact.
For this reason the secretary and the chair need to work closely in collaboration with each other.
If a decision taken by the meeting is not clear, the secretary should ask the chair to clarify matters – which often helps other people as well.
Some types of meeting even require a record of who spoke to the issues on the agenda, and what points of argument they made. In such cases, a summary rather than a verbatim record is appropriate.
Writing the minutes of meetings
It is most likely that you will make rough notes during the meeting, then convert these to your finished report of the meeting after it has finished.
Remember that you are summarizing the most important issues, so you need to use a number of skills at the same time
- good listening skills
- the ability to summarize
- good note-taking skills
Your job is to distinguish the less from the more important points of discussion. For this you can use your own system of abbreviations.
At the meeting
- listen attentively, jotting down key words
- use the agenda document as a template
- leave enough space between items for your jottings
- summarize what’s said, using a system of shorthand
- ask for clarification if necessary
If the discussion was about The Allied and Providential Assurance Company for instance, you would not write out that name in full ever time. APAC would be a perfectly useful abbreviation in your notes.
Many people find it difficult to listen carefully and make notes at the same time. This becomes even more difficult if they are an active member of the meeting. For that reason a minutes secretary is not normally expected to participate as fully in a meeting as the other members.
If the meeting is not too big, you can probably record people’s contributions using their initials (KP, HT, MA) rather than their full names. You can also do this in any minutes so long as the names appear in full in the list of attendees.
The first time the name of an organisation is mentioned, it should be spelled out in full – as in Product Management Corporation, or the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Trust. Thereafter, you can use acronyms formed by the initial letters of its name (PMC and QEJT). In very big meetings, these names and acronyms are often listed in an appendix.
Prepare in advance as much as possible. Make sure you have a copy of the minutes of the last meeting, and that they have been circulated to other committee members. Making a record of a meeting is always easier if you know the agenda in advance, and even if you know who might be in attendance.
Make sure you have a copy of the meeting agenda. Get to the meeting early so that you can record the names of other people as they arrive – if you know them.
If you don’t know the attendees, wait until the meeting has started, then circulate a blank sheet on which people are asked to PRINT their names. Don’t circulate this attendance sheet before the meeting starts, because if some people arrive late, the chances are that they will be missed.
It might happen that an item on the agenda is not discussed or is deferred for some reason until the next meeting. You should nevertheless record this fact, so that a future meeting is able to check on the status of the item and decide if it is still relevant.
Some meetings can generate discussions which become arguments, with differences of opinion expressed quite forcefully. A great deal of tact and diplomacy is required in recording such discussions.
The best way to deal with such occasions is to record the fact that there was disagreement, but without going into any details. You can use a form of words such as ‘There was disagreement concerning the choice of contractor for the project, but following discussion it was agreed that …’
Do not intrude any of your own opinions into the record of events. Your task is to appear neutral and impartial – even if you have strong feelings about hte topics being discussed.
Try to get agreement on the date of the next meeting before the meeting ends and people leave. That strictly is the chairperson’s job, but you will be doing yourself a favour in getting agreement on this issue.
If some points of the discussion are still not clear to you, it’s a good idea to ask speakers to clarify matters to you before they leave, otherwise you will have extra work in tracking this information when you come to write the formal minutes.
Cabinet plot against the Prime Minister – using the minutes
Notes on the Agenda
1. The name of the meeting or group
This can be very important in some cases – particularly if the minutes of the meeting will be circulated widely outside the group itself, or even to the public.
2. Those in attendance
The meeting might be composed of delegates or representatives from a variety of organisations. It’s the secretary’s job to note both their names and the organisations they represent.
List the names in alphabetical order. This avoids any suggestion of priority or importance.
3. Minutes of the last meeting
It is usual for these to be looked at briefly, with a view to making sure that everybody agrees they are a correct record.
It might be necessary to note the outcomes of any decisions taken on which action has been taken
Larger or on-going issues very often appear on the agenda of the current meeting, and discussion of them can be deferred until these items are considered.
4. Agenda item One
You should keep the notes for each agenda item separate and quite distinct from each other on the page.
Leave plenty of space between each of your notes.
Template for Meeting Minutes
1. Name of Organisation or group
2. Name of Meeting – it might be a regular meeting or one with a specific purpose
3. Date of Meeting
4. Names of those attending – plus their positions or the organisations they represent
5. Apologies for absence – those giving their apologies for non-attendance
6. Agenda item One – This is usually the minutes of the last meeting
7. Agenda item Two
8. Agenda item Three … and so on …
12. Date of the next meeting
13. Any other business
The papers for a meeting might normally include the following documents (depending on the formality of the meeting or group):
- An agenda for the forthcoming meeting
- The minutes of the last meeting
- Attachments, reports, or letters
Committee members are given these papers in advance, and they are supposed to have read them all before they arrive at the meeting. That’s the theory – but the reality is often different.
People often start reading through these documents at the meeting itself, and asking questions about them – which is one of the many reasons that meetings take longer than they should. It is the job of the chair to impose discipline over such issues.
Writing up the minutes of meetings
You will be creating the minutes from your notes taken during the meeting. Here is one overwhelmingly useful tip on this part of the task: The sooner after the meeting you do it, the easier it will be.
That’s because your rough notes will make more sense, and you are not relying on your medium or long term memory to recapture any names or details of the discussion.
The structure of the minutes will mirror the meeting agenda.
Use the past tense (“Mr Parkinson outlined the plan”) and avoid use of the passive voice (“The plan was outlined by Mr Parkinson”).
Some organisations and groups like to draw attention to the decisions and outcomes by concluding the report of each agenda item with an action point. Here’s an example:
There was a discussion of the proposed alternative route and the impact it would have on local residents and businesses. It was unanimously decided that a formal challenge should be registered at the earliest possible date.
ACTION POINT: The treasurer Mrs Jones will seek volunteers to form a transport sub-committee, and Mr Davis as chair will contact the four local councillors and invite them to address the next meeting.
Sample minutes of meetings
Westleigh Maintenance Company Ltd
Annual General Meeting
Monday 19 July 2010
Julie Culshaw, Mary Greenhalgh, Vera Sisson, Ingrid Kempster, Edward Kempster, Irene Rodger, Colin Rodger, Gerry Clarke, Edith Pickles, Pat Powell, Heather Pollitt, Roy Johnson.
Manoj Hira, Reg Marsden, Lavinia Marsden, John Sillar
1. Minutes of the last AGM held on 22 July 2009 were accepted.
2. The accounts for the year ended 31 March 2010 were accepted.
Although these showed an overall loss, this was due to late maintenance payments, and these had since been paid.
3. Appointment of accountants
The finance director suggested that we remain with our current accountants, and this was accepted.
4. Appointment of directors.
The current directors were all standing for re-election. There were no nominations for new directors. The current directors were re-elected.
5. Appointment of company secretary
Julie Culshaw moved a vote of thanks and appreciation to the secretary and other directors in recognition of the amount of work they undertook on behalf of the Company.
Heather Pollitt was elected as secretary.
6. Increase in service charge
Because of the lack of any surplus to pay for improvements and maintenance, the directors recently looked into the possibility of arranging a bank overdraft. This was not pursued because of the cost and the excessive bureaucracy attached. The possibility of extraordinary payments was also discussed and rejected in favour of an increase in the service charge.
The meeting finally agreed that the directors should prepare a financial projection for the next one to two years, based on an increase in the annual service charge to somewhere between £1100 and £1200.
Any Other Business
7. Managing agents
The directors recently decided to end the relationship with the Guthrie Partnership as managing agents, because it was felt that the directors themselves were able to act more efficiently on behalf of Westleigh and its interests.
However, the advisory services of Alec Guthrie himself would be retained as and when required for legal purposes.
Directors had spoken to Dave Roberts, who agreed to act as a point of contact for local maintenance services. It was stressed that this did not represent an agreement to cover the costs of any works commissioned: these could only be met following agreement of the directors.
Gerry Clarke reminded the meeting that in cases where leaks from one apartment were affecting another, the costs of any repairs and redecoration were the responsibility of the owner causing the leaks.
There was general dissatisfaction with the services provided by the current gardeners. A quotation from another local gardening service had been obtained, and it was agreed to change to this alternative service for a trial period once sufficient funds were available – probably towards the end of September.
10. Purchase of freehold
The purchase of the freehold was now complete, and Westleigh owners were in a position to either cease or continue making ground rent payments. Pat Powell suggested that the current payment should be included in the annual service charge, payable by one direct debit. This suggestion was accepted.
11. External re-decoration
The replacement of the finials, cleaning of driveways, and repainting of fascia boards was almost complete. A vote of thanks was extended to Edith Pickles for allowing the use of her garage for storage during these works.
The meeting concluded at 20.15
© Roy Johnson 2010