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Taking meeting minutes is important for documenting what discussions and outcomes came out of a given meeting, but I personally find it difficult to lead a meeting at the same time as taking notes (they use very different parts of my brain). Any recommendations on fairly choosing a meeting note-taker from the participants (and ensuring that they take meaningful notes)?

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For periodic, regular meetings, one possibility is to rotate the duties of taking notes each week or period. This will change things us a little bit and spread the responsibility so that one person doesn't become overwhelmed.

If the meeting is an ad-hoc meeting, you could ask for volunteers to take notes. Chances are, a person willing to volunteer to take notes places the same importance in note-taking as you do and likely wants to have something to refer to after the meeting.

As you work with different people in your organization, you'll learn who the good, attentive, detail-oriented note takers are, and you can enlist these individuals to help you when you need all your mental faculties to focus on facilitating the meeting.

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    Also - if all else fails, record the meeting and make minutes from the recording. – SBWorks Mar 11 '11 at 10:53
  • We use round robin in Team, person changes on every week basis – pramodc84 Mar 15 '11 at 6:19
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The only really important things you have to note down during a meeting are

  • Decisions
  • Required actions: who will do what by when

It is fairly easy to note these down even if you're leading the meeting. I usually have enough with one A4 for a normal day of meetings (actually the back of my printout of the agenda from outlook).

Writing them down actually helps your brain to confirm the decision/required action as fully understood and appropriate.

  • Writing the decisions and tasks down using a tool like agreedo.com can help to ensure that they are not only been taken down, but also followed up afterwards. – Bob Mar 27 '11 at 15:40
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Ideas from jmort253 are great. I'd add one technique which has proven to be worthy for me. If I'm an organizer of a meeting I prepare rather detailed agenda just for myself: things I want to launch discussion on, some ideas I may but may not use during discussion depending on situation and such.

It results in two things:

  1. I'm usually better prepared to the meeting and I don't forget about some specific things I wanted to go through.

  2. As I leave some empty room on my agenda for my scribblings I'm able to take very brief notes or even keywords which doesn't really distract me but let me record the ideas we have to follow up. The basic trick here is I don't have to write down a context since I have it the agenda so taking notes takes way less time and is way less distracting yet yields good minutes.

  • Being prepared is a great technique and can help the brain have room for other things, like notes. Additionally, I think this is great advice because you just look more on the ball and less scrambled. – jmort253 Mar 11 '11 at 14:51
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Because meetings should only be held if and as needed, it's important to have an agenda, distributed before the meeting, and meeting minutes following the meeting. Otherwise, people met, discussed something and maybe agreed verbally. None of that promotes accountability or documents expected actions as a result of your meeting. Remember: it’s your meeting and you are asking for a very expensive resource: people’s time.

At conclusion, it's good form to summarize what's been said in the meeting. That is the essence of the meeting minutes and provides an opportunity for those in the meeting to agree/disagree/modify what will be documented as the meeting outcome.

As for actually collecting information and notes during the meeting, I recommend the buddy system. Find someone in your team/department or ask that person who always seems to be capturing every word in the meeting if they will provide you their notes. The goal is to capture and document the essential agreements and actions resulting from the meeting, not the conversation.

One way to move a meeting toward agreement is to use a TIM (Time is Money) calculator (also free online version) to prominently display the collective cost of the meeting. It's surprising how quickly the total cost adds up.

  • Do you have a link to the Time is Money calculator? That sounds like it could be very impactful for justifying the cancellation unimportant meetings. – Sean Earp Mar 11 '11 at 16:50
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    TIM calculator can be found at: bringtim (dot) com. There's a nice blog post about it on 37Signals (dot) com/svn. Search for TIM on the blog. – Bob Reid Mar 12 '11 at 21:49
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It's a good practice to assign a meeting facilitator as the most out-ot-scope person in the group. Invite someone from outside of your team. Someone who understands very little about your subject, but at the same time is a good meeting facilitator. Give him/her your meeting agenda and a list of decisions/results you're looking for. The facilitator will drive the meeting through the plan and will make all notes. You and your team will be disciplined and managed by the facilitator, and won't be distracted by the making notes process.

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    There's one issue with this approach. Sometimes the result of being out-of-scope are poor-quality minutes as the person who takes it doesn't understand all the context of the discussion. I often see it even after such general discussions as management board meetings where notes are taken by some C-level exec assistant. – Pawel Brodzinski Mar 11 '11 at 7:00
  • This is a great suggestion and a good way to let the people involved stay focused, but it's possible the person taking notes may not understand the topics and might not take very good notes. For instance, a marketing person would really struggle to keep up with software architecture concepts in a technical meeting. – jmort253 Mar 11 '11 at 7:01
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I'm gonna be vague, it mostly depends on the type of meeting you have because this results in what should be actually documented. I have daily meetings at with I just document: 1. What has been progressed 2. What is next in queue 3. Blockers if any (kind of adopted from the Daily Scrum)

On a monthly program meeting I make notes of: 1. Suggestions or Comments vs the agenda points (Who said what - very brief) 2. Updates to the Action list

Now the simplest one on the Monthly Company Board meeting there is just one thing that we take note of: 1. Action points (Owner, Target Date, Status)

KISS would be the principle you would go with - I have seen lots of MM docs that do not convey what was the actual result of the meeting and what decisions were taken - and that should be it's purpose.

  • +1 Staying on topic is another great tip. This ties into @pawel's answer as being prepared with an agenda also gives you an outline of what categories you need to take notes on. – jmort253 Mar 11 '11 at 14:53
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I've found it useful to streamline the minute-taking process by ensuring that open action items from each meeting automatically become the agenda items of the next meeting, plus any new items of note. Close those open AIs. Following these steps will cut down on the time needed to record the open items and streamline the meeting, since participants will recognize the agenda as the previous meeting's AIs.

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If you have the luxury, you can have an administrative assistant take your meeting minutes. As noted above, what is really important are decisions and actions. The key on these is to get them out of free form mode, aka MS Word / Paper, and get them into Excel or another tool where you can track them. Having actions embedded into Word doesn't give you the visibility and ability to track things across multiple meetings, sub-projects, etc. If you categorize them correctly, you can then carry them over into your next meeting, topic, status update, etc.

A lot of people bring laptops to meetings these days. They may be multi-tasking or surfing the internet for all you know. If you are chairing the meeting, simply say to them before you start the meeting "Great, I see Steven is taking notes. Steven, can you send the team your notes after the meeting is finished. Thanks!"

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What I've done is to prepare an outline of the minutes beforehand, based on the agenda.

Then I simply need to add in the Action Items (with owners) and Decisions.

Where possible, I project this Agenda onto the screen and everybody can see me edit it. This has various advantages:

  • The meeting doesn't progress while I'm typing, and I don't risk missing something.
  • Once an item is typed up, it closes the discussion and it's clear it's time to move onto the next agenda item.
  • I don't get feedback after sending out the minutes that I missed something or misinterpreted it; everybody watches me creating it, and can point out edits in real time.

After the meeting I usually polish it up, before sending it out. (And make it politically correct, where needed.)

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Pick the last person to enter the room before the meeting starts. That solves two problems: you have someone to take notes, and everyone gets to the meeting early.

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I ask people who'd like to volunteer to take notes provided all team members are capable of doing so. In the rush to take notes, it's normal to make mistakes, so after the meeting, I edit to polish the wording, but not the idea.

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