Documentation of meetings causes major delays in action at many companies. The larger the company, the more likely it is to have rules about meeting minutes or records: who is in charge of producing them, who needs to approve the final form, how they are circulated, where they are stored, and so forth. Smaller companies simply do not have policies or procedures about meetings; in which case meetings just happen and no outcomes are recorded.
Either extreme is unproductive and likely to waste the time that people spend in meetings. Far more productive is to learn and teach simple strategies to document the meeting: its purpose, participants, discussion items, relevant materials, and (most important) outcomes. The outcomes should be in the form of action plans, assignments, specific recommendations, announcements, policies, or other purposeful statements.
I recommend these few policies and procedures:
Use white boards and a camera. Ask someone to capture key points of your discussion on a white board or flip chart. Several people can do this job for different parts of the agenda. For documentation, simply capture a photo of the white board. I use a software program called Whiteboard Photo that produces excellent, cleaned-up images from photos of whiteboards or flip charts. As this image illustrates [it is deliberately small for this post], it can produce a clean and legible whiteboard copy even from a bad photo. Saves lots of typing time!
Project notes on a screen, using One Note, PowerPoint, or Word. Help a few people in your organization to become very good at on-the-fly documentation using one of these tools. I find OneNote to be extremely useful because of its flexibility in attaching relevant documents. The person documenting may be a meeting participant or a skilled scribe invited to record the proceedings. If the documentation is handled live, as the meeting progresses, all participants can see the emerging documentation and recommend changes as needed.
Engage or train a graphic recorder. Graphic recording has become an established method for capturing the intent of a collaborative group activity. It is a high energy activity that captures the essence of meeting content, decisions, and outcomes in a truly memorable way. Not for routine meetings (but you won’t be having those anymore, will you?), graphic recording is worth the investment for mission-critical team times like strategic planning. The graphic recorder cannot be a meeting participant. Consider training one or more of your marketing, sales support, or admin team to become graphic recorders [Google that term for many sources of training].
Of course there is the old standby of meeting minutes, whereby someone records the key dialog and decisions for circulation to the participants. A very informal version of that practice will work. But be sure either to engage a support person who is not participating in the meeting or a meeting participant who is very skilled at getting the record right and circulating the minutes promptly. Which brings me to my final point.
Share documentation immediately. Your documentation should be in participants’ digital inbox as soon as they get back to their offices from the meeting, or they should receive a link to the online location of the report. Share meeting outcomes as widely as is necessary. Don’t hoard the information and outcomes unless it was truly a confidential topic. If a meeting produces outcomes that are widely applicable, it is equally important to provide rich, relevant, and timely documents to people who were not in attendance. And understand that the longer the lag time between meeting and sharing the documentation, the less impact your meeting will have on the participants’ follow up activities or even their awareness of what anyone agreed to do.
If your company invests in some creative documentation techniques, you can become a leader in motivating your team to contribute to collaborative work and decision-making. The times that they spend together can be powerful, productive times where their real work is accomplished, rather than distasteful “time-outs” that distract them from what they should be doing.
This is Blog Post #7 of a 10-post series devoted to “How to Get More Work Done in Meetings and Make More Money.” Stay tuned for the rest of the series. I welcome your comments and suggestions–how do you document your meetings?