Taking minutes for a meeting does not have to be difficult: With the right preparation, clear structuring and a targeted protocol technique, the results are already professionally recorded directly at the end of the meeting or the voting round.
Quick and clear: The bullet-point results protocol
The most frequently used form of protocol, both in the business environment and in clubs and associations, is the bullet-point results protocol. It is not an "official" protocol form, but emerged from practice.
Basically, this is a mixture of a short protocol and a results protocol:
- The result protocol contains only the results,
- the short protocol also contains summarized additional information, such as how the results were obtained.
In addition, development departments in companies also use purely tabular forms of reports that are kept with a spreadsheet program such as Microsoft Excel.
5 basic rules for taking minutes
Today, the following basic rules apply to the bullet point type results protocol:
- Important is an as short as possible, reduced to the really relevant information. This not only guarantees a quick overview when reading later, but also considerably shortens the time required to prepare the minutes.
- At the same time must ensure that outsiders can also Or those absent from the meeting, such as executives Understanding the protocol can be.
- The individual points are formulated in key words, that is, they are not formulated as sentences. Exception: Results are usually recorded in complete sentences.
- The minutes record a group decision and not the points of view expressed in the course of the meeting. This also means: names are only mentioned for tasks or when a participant explicitly disagrees with a common result – there is no "copyright on ideas".
- Dates and responsibilities are clearly indicated in the table.
Other forms of results recording and logging
Today, the securing of results in the broader sense is also served by, for example
- Discussion notes,
- memos or
- Test reports.
They differ from minutes (in the narrower sense) mostly in that they are the results of individual work (test report) or do not record what has been agreed with the discussion partner, but rather what is subjective and has no probative value.
For these forms you can often use the same structure and layout, i.e. also the same template in your word processing or spreadsheet program, as for the classic minutes.
Particularly fast and effective: The meeting minutes as online minutes
When preparing traditional, long-formulated minutes, it is not only the preparation that takes a long time – a lot of time also elapses between the meeting and the receipt of the minutes.
In the past, it was considered "normal" to send minutes two weeks after a meeting. And if a participant then remembers that, in his or her opinion, something different was decided than what is written in the minutes, this often leads to discussions, new votes as well as, in any case, to a further delay – and a lot of time spent always also means: additional costs.
Take minutes directly during the meeting
In order to save not only time and costs, but also nerves and to ensure the rapid implementation of decisions, the technique of so-called online logging is mostly used in companies today.
"Online" does not mean that there must be an actual online connection to the Internet or to a network. It means "directly during the ongoing meeting".
Particularly in technical areas such as development, the minutes are created directly on a notebook and projected on a beamer for all participants to see.
In addition to speed, this has another major advantage: The wording in the minutes can be checked and approved directly by all participants.
How to integrate the creation of an online protocol into your meeting
In an online protocol, each item on the agenda (TOP) follows the following pattern:
- Introduce point: An item is presented, if necessary there is a presentation on it, and the item is discussed.
- Record interim results: Intermediate results are directly recorded in writing by the meeting leader or minute-taker – in a minute document on the notebook, on a flipchart or on a writing pad.
- Record the final results and tasks: At the end of an agenda item, the results are discussed together and, if necessary, the wording is adjusted so that all participants agree with it. The distribution of tasks is also made and recorded by mutual agreement.
Then it goes on with the next TOP. When a meeting is held in this form on a notebook, the minutes are completely finished immediately after the last item has been dealt with and can be sent off.
Prepare minutes on critical topics
In the case of particularly critical topics, one often goes even one step further, for example in the case of supplier meetings. If quality problems or other deficiencies are discussed and the supplier commits to improvement measures, you want to ensure clear commitment and quick implementation.
This is how you proceed:
- Have the minutes printed out directly at the end of the meeting and have them signed immediately by all those present.
- The signed copy is copied for all and given to each participant at once.
- If the results have been recorded on a flipchart or on a pad, then they only need to be transferred by the meeting leader or minute-taker into a minute document.
The big advantage with this approach: They prevent one of the participants from later claiming that a decision was not made as written in the minutes – after all, it is his signature that is underneath, almost like a contract.
The classic protocol framework: Rules and specifications for head to tail
Although there are no generally valid design rules or DIN standards for minutes, you can transfer many of the rules formulated in DIN 5008 (these are the writing and design rules for text processing) analogously.
However, there are more precise requirements for the so-called protocol frame. This means the "header" (i.e. the beginning on the first page) and the conclusion of the minutes. Very specific information must be placed here.
The protocol header contains
- the name of the organizer/inviting party,
- the agenda, i.e. the chronological sequence,
- The names of the participants (either only those who attended or all those who were invited, with a note of whether they were absent and possibly why),
- if necessary, the names of the persons who will also receive the protocol (for example, the supervisor), and
- Place, date and time.
At the end of the minutes used to be mandatory:
- the place and date the minutes were taken, and
- The signatures of the responsible persons (= meeting chairperson and minute taker).
Since most minutes are now produced and distributed in digital form (for example, as a Word or PDF file), signatures are usually not required.
And if the minutes do require a signature?
Sometimes, however, it is mandatory for internal or legal reasons that the protocol bears a signature.
To then print, sign, copy and mail efficiently prepared minutes would certainly be a step backwards into outdated procedures. Nevertheless, some minutes must actually be signed in order to be "valid. Also sending a signature file in TIF or JPG format makes no sense of course.
The solution is simple:
- Print out a copy of the minutes, sign it, and file it with your paper records.
- Add the note "Signed in original" instead of the signature in your Word document.
- Create a PDF document from the Word file, and send it as an email attachment.
If someone actually doubts that the minutes were signed by the meeting leader in this way, you can always submit a paper copy later – or the "doubter" can inspect the signed copy at your office if necessary. If the minutes have been created as "online minutes", however, there will be no such queries.
How to organize the content clearly? The basic structure within the agenda items
If individual TOPs are very extensive, i.e., consist of more than eight to ten paragraphs of text, they should be organized (and all uniformly) in terms of content. This simplifies the formulation of the minutes and ensures that nothing is forgotten. In addition, information can be found much faster when reading later.
For example, the following structure makes sense:
- What is fact? A brief explanation of the purpose and goal of the TOP.
- Processing of the agenda item, e.g., collection of material, discussion.
- Result(s), resulting tasks with responsibility(s) and target date(s).
Alternatives for structuring the TOPs
The order of the last two points of this basic structure can be exchanged; for certain protocol or report types this is even always the case, for example in the test report.
The following structure is recommended here:
- What to examine?
- What is the recommendation?
- How was investigated, respectively how exactly was the experiment done?
What information always belongs in the protocol
Information that should not be missing in any case is the following:
- the result or. the results,
- for every single item of the task list: concrete completion dates and the person responsible for it from the meeting group ("Who does what by when?"),
- if a follow-up meeting is necessary: the specific, mutually agreed upon date of the meeting. This information should be highlighted for a better overview, for example by bold print.
What does not belong in the log?
Creating minutes also means sifting, selecting, compressing and summarizing information. This is done according to the topic of the respective meeting resp. of the respective TOP.
As a rule, anything that does not specifically serve to secure results does not belong in a contemporary protocol, such as:
- self-evident components of a meeting or the procedure ("Mr. Muller welcomed the employees"),
- something that does not belong to the topic or. which does not pursue the goal of the meeting or also the TOP,
- comments made in the meantime that have no effect on the result,
- Expressions that do not meet with approval and are not discussed further,
- discussions from which no task is derived,
- "natural" procedures, self-evident procedures, procedures established by rules or norms.
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