Meeting Minutes: Why I say no

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I was talking to a recruiter during my last job hunt who asked me how I felt about taking meeting minutes. The first thing that popped out of my mouth was “I think meeting minutes are overrated because I’ve rarely if ever seen them consulted again by meeting participants. When is the last time you consulted meeting minutes after a meeting was over?” While we both laughed at my response, I was quite serious and didn’t know how serious I was myself until well after the call was over.

Attending meetings in commercial, federal, and higher education environments, I’ve heard all the shtick of the value of meeting minutes and know that it is an ITIL requirement. However, in practice, they take up hard drive space and serve as a just a check mark on some auditor’s checklist who wasn’t at the meeting anyway and who may or may not even understand the project or its underlying technologies.

Meeting attendance and note taking are also personal things in my experience. Everybody including the project managers comes into a meeting with their own agendas whether they are written down or not. For example, when I come to a meeting, I am there to represent technical documentation.

When the meeting organizer — typically a project manager or other management type — parcels out the role of taking meeting minutes (usually to the technical writer) they are actually doing a disservice for some reasons.

First, meeting management can be a dark art in some organizations, so the lucky schmuck who gets stuck taking notes has to follow the bouncing ball of a meeting agenda that goes offsides more than it stays on target. This free for all sort of meeting can steal from the attention of the note taker making them less of a positive contributor than if they were taking notes that mattered to their segment of the project. Second, wishy-washy management and communications styles don’t translate well in meeting minutes (IMHO).

The ideal note taker for meeting minutes is and will always be the meeting organizer and not one of the participants because they should be the arbiter of what agenda items are essential and when a decision about a project action item or issue is final. Meeting attendees need to be there to represent their areas not record the meeting for the sake of bureaucracy.

However, I will say that there are other project artifacts such as status reports are much better indicators of the progress (or lack thereof) on a project or task. The status report is written with much attention to what is taking place on the project.

The old and dogged concept of meeting minutes should also feel the crosshairs from technology changes. Note taking using applications such as OneNote, Evernote, Dropbox Paper, and Quip mean that meeting attendees can open up their own meeting notes to other attendees for reading and collaboration. It just takes standardizing a team on one of these applications. The growing use of web conferencing platforms like Adobe Connect Pro also means that recordings and transcripts could be made available to those in the organization who missed the meeting.

Meeting minutes are a relic of days gone by and especially in today’s day and age where self-directed note taking and collaborative technologies can capture a complete picture of a meeting.


Hi! My name is Will Kelly. I’m a technical writer and content development manager based in the Washington, DC area. I’ve worked with clients like NetApp, Dell, and Neustar to develop technical, training, and thought leadership content. My articles have been published by IBM Mobile Business Insights, TechBeacon, CNET TechRepublic, Network World, Toolbox.com, ZDNet.com, and others. Follow me on Twitter:@willkelly

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