If ‘agility’ was the buzzword of the 2010s, ‘accountability’ may be a welcome trend in the 2020s.
Having sought to be as lean and reactive as possible, businesses and organisations are increasingly finding that there needs to be a balance between being responsive and being careful. Without clear planning and documentation, actions can be taken which not only lack transparency, but lack the scrutiny required to ensure their success.
One of the keys to improving accountability is effective minute taking. The emergence of Zoom means that meetings are more frequent and lengthy than ever, and play a major role in decision making within most organisations. Taking detailed and accurate minutes can help to set goals and reinforce the value of these meetings – as well as providing the transparency that customers and users of public services demand.
The age of accountability
Accountability has always been important in business, but its value to customers and clients continues to grow. People increasingly want to know that the businesses they use are ethical, and act in a way that benefits the planet and the communities around them. In the public sector, meanwhile, there is growing scrutiny of how public money is spent, and how effective the service is that people receive. This has created a drive for better transparency, both in how money is allocated and the processes that drive key decisions.
Accountability and transparency aren’t identical, but they are often indivisible. Making individuals and groups of key decision makers accountable means being transparent about the actions they take. In practical terms, this means keeping records on all of the work and major discussions that take place within the organisation, and making these available to people outside the organisation where appropriate. Not everything needs to be divulged, but everything needs to be available in case decisions have to be justified.
This transparency increasingly relates to decisions around the ethics of a business, both in terms of its social and environmental impact. Transparency in supply chains reflects a commitment to reducing waste, and minimising the impact of polluting processes such as production and transport. Privacy is also a hot-button issue: people want to know that apps and online services aren’t tracking them, and that data is being collected and stored in a safe and ethical manner, in line with new GDPR regulations.
In some areas, this transparency also extends to public safety. The Grenfell Tower fire laid bare a series of failures in transparency and accountability in the construction sector, as well as the local council and tenant management organisation. At each stage of the tower’s renovation, officials and representatives from different companies failed to question the use of cladding that was both illegal and unsuitable for use on the tower, as well as neglecting to address evident shortcomings in its fire protection.
The value of effective minute taking
In the post-pandemic age, meetings have never been more popular. The popularisation of Zoom has led to a greater volume of meetings than ever, even as in-person meetings have become more viable. The result is that more and more decisions are being made within the context of meetings, with less correspondence happening over email, or more easily tracked communication tools. If the contents of these meetings are not recorded, it can become difficult to trace decisions back to their point of origin, or keep track of everything that needs to be done.
While most meetings will involve some kind of minute taking or note taking, this process isn’t always exhaustive, and can vary dramatically from person to person. One set of minutes might record every contribution by each person, while another might only summarise the key points, and yet another may only record the outcomes. This can lead to a lack of consistency in the records, as well as a lack of transparency or clarity about who has said and decided what. Oftentimes this leads to further meetings, as the things discussed don’t get delivered, and more time has to be spent going over the same ground.
Effective minute taking is an acquired skill, and is as much about the things you leave out as the things you keep in. A great minute taker makes rapid-fire decisions on what constitutes an important point in a meeting and what doesn’t, then records the necessary information in the right amount of depth. Crucially, they have to do this without losing track of what’s going on in the meeting. This requires a multitude of separate skills: the ability to multitask, to assess the value of information, and to record it clearly, factually, and consistently.
How to improve minute taking
A good starting point for more effective minute taking is to understand the purpose of minutes. Meeting minutes act as a point of reference both for people who were at the meeting, and people who were unable to attend. As such, they can’t be coded in any way, or make reference to things in shorthand that only people who went to the meeting will understand. They need to inform people outside of the meeting who still have a stake in the decisions made there what those decisions were.
Achieving this requires a degree of planning and organisation. By structuring the meeting ahead of time, for instance – planning out the topics for discussion and the order they will be broached in – the minute taker can have a series of headings ready under which to take notes, and an idea of what the agendas are going into the meeting. Similarly, having the names and roles of the participants to hand will help to correctly identify and record who said what, and when. Creating a minutes template will help you to tick off these fundamentals, and achieve consistency across meetings.
The key information you’re looking to record is decisions and action items – in other words, things to do, and things that have been done. Meetings should ultimately achieve some kind of forward progress, and minutes exist to document this, and ensure that key decisions are followed up on. With this in mind, clarity and accuracy are critical. If you aren’t sure about something that has been said, ask for clarification to ensure you’ve recorded it correctly. It may also be helpful to record the meeting using the recording functionality in Zoom or other software, so that you can return to check your minutes later.
Minute taking can seem straightforward, but like anything, it’s a muscle that needs to be trained. Without effective planning, strong attention to detail and consistent execution, minutes can be as much of an impediment to transparency and progress as they are a benefit.
Our Minute Taking With Confidence course teaches the fundamental skills necessary to take clear, factual and useful minutes that expedite decision-making and improve administration. To learn more about our course and book your place, visit our course page or get in touch with us today.