Bookends hold books up. Without them, the books tumble onto each other or off the shelf. The “bookends” of a meeting are as important as the meeting itself. Without them, nobody knows beforehand what’s going to happen or remembers afterward what did.
We’ve discussed the first major bookend of a meeting, the agenda, now we will look at the bookend that follows a meeting: the minutes.
The Why and How of Minutes
Among the exasperating experiences in group meetings are moments when people say, “We talked about this before—at least twice. Why are we going over the same ground again?” There are also those times when we hear, “John, you were supposed to report on this. What’s your report?” and John replies, “But I didn’t know I was supposed to make a report.”
The best way to prevent such deflating episodes is to follow up after each meeting with good records. Here are two ways to do this:
- Keep ironclad minutes. One college in Washington State has used this template for many years to shape and retain minutes of its academic committee meetings:
Date/time/location of meeting: ____________________________________
Purpose/goals of meeting: ____________________________________
Person presiding: ____________________________________
Officers in Attendance: ____________________________________
Other members in attendance: ____________________________________
Members absent: ____________________________________
Table 12.1 Agenda Template Agenda Item Discussion/Motions Action Taken Follow-Up 1. Minutes Approved as printed. 2. Agenda Approved as disseminated 5/29/2013. 3. Roof problem John Smith reported that the ceiling in the staff washroom leaks. Motion by Mary Jones to have the ceiling repaired; motion passed. Plant/Maintenance will be asked to patch the leak. John Smith will contact Jane Doe, head of Plant/Maintenance, by 6/15 to schedule repair.
Time of adjournment: ____________________________________
Date/time/place of next meeting: ____________________________________
Notice that this style of minutes lacks extensive text and “he said/she said” descriptions.
Instead, it makes crystal clear who’s responsible for what actions prior to the next meeting. Its contents are brief, easy to read, and very difficult to misinterpret (or evade). It promotes action and accountability.
Distribute minutes promptly. When and how you disseminate minutes shows whether and how much you care about what your group does. If your group has bylaws, it may be a good idea for them to include a time frame within which minutes of meetings need to be distributed (such as “within five days”).
Make sure your mailing list of people to receive minutes is up to date and accurate. This will ensure that no one misses the next meeting because he or she didn’t see when and where it was scheduled to take place.
Sloppy minutes degrade the value of the work and time people invest together. They can also weaken a group’s morale. Professional minutes, on the other hand, may even make people who weren’t at a meeting wish they had been – and can strengthen your group’s pride and solidarity. Professional minutes can also protect your organization legally if something is to go awry.
If you’re the leader of the group, making sure that minutes are prepared and distributed well is only one step toward increasing the likelihood that your meetings will achieve their full potential of transmitting discussions into plans and plans into action. You should do three other things after a meeting.
First, you should contact group members who were identified in the minutes as being responsible for follow-up action. See if they need information, resources, or other help to follow through on their assignments. If a committee or subcommittee was asked to take action on some point, get in touch with whoever heads it and offer to provide materials or other support that may be needed to accomplish its work.
Second, you should set a positive example. Take a few minutes to reflect on how effective you were in facilitating the last meeting and ask yourself what you might change at the next one. Be sure, too, to implement any decisions you were assigned in a timely fashion.
Third, you should make sure that the minutes of your group’s meetings are stored in secure form, either physically or digitally or both, so that they are available to both you and other group members at any time. Your group’s institutional memory, which is the foundation for future members to build upon, needs to be tended regularly and diligently. When in doubt, it’s better to hold onto information and documentation related to your group. Discarding something because you think to yourself “nobody will forget this” may very well turn out to be a mistake.
Observing these suggestions may not make the experiences associated with following up on group meetings heavenly, but it might at least keep them from being too hellish.
“12.4 Post Meeting Communication and Minutes” from An Introduction to Group Communication by Phil Venditti and Scott McLean is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.