Some thoughts on minutes and agendas

Organisations often use standard formats for agendas and minutes but, if you are considering ways to make meetings more effective, we think it better to make up your own format and procedure, to be sure that they suit your organisation and support and invigorate the way it is governed.

Standard agendas can undermine effective meetings as they usually (unintentionally) obscure the main purpose of the meeting. People attending meetings need to be alerted to the intended focus points of the meeting so that they know how to prepare for the meeting. One (seemingly simple) idea for an agenda is to put the most important item first- so many times meetings cycle through theusual agenda items and then run out of time for the one crucial thing!

Most minutes record also that the meeting began with a review, corrections to, and then approval of the minutes of the previous meeting.

Now, although this is a rather standard approach, it often results in the meeting being bogged down in details from the very start and, especially if there has been a gap of more than a couple of weeks since that previous meeting, only those with superhuman powers of recall will be able to remember the discussions and decisions accurately enough to suggest substantive corrections. The corrections which are raised are most often spelling errors or typos, or when the item was about you, and then you do remember what was said!

It is best to check, correct and approve minutes as soon as possible after the meeting, while everyone still remembers it more or less accurately. Ideally, minutes should be sent out within a couple of days after the meeting with a request for corrections to be submitted within a week. The checking of previous minutes may then be omitted from the agenda of the following meeting, and only “action items” referred to.

The following are suggested components of minutes:

  • Record of who was present and whether there was a quorum;
  • Record of any ongoing or arising conflicts of interest;
  • Summary of key discussions;
  • Decisions made clearly recorded as such;
  • Notes on action points, who is accountable for which, and delivery dates; and
  • Date of next meeting.

Don’t be afraid to change things around, and aim for accuracy, brevity, focus and then a springboard for action!

Nicole Copley | NGO Law

Nicole has consulted to the NGO sector since 1993. She is an admitted attorney (non-practising), has her Masters in the tax exemption laws and is a Master Tax Practitioner. Nicole developed her drafting skills while working as a business lawyer, and she has a pragmatic problem-solving approach to all the work she does. Her depth and breadth of experience over many years and her work with government and a wide range of clients, give her useful perspective and insight. Nicole also lectures and trains on various topics of importance to the NGO sector. She is author of ‘NGO Matters: A practical legal guide to starting up’, and publisher of the series of NGO Matters handbooks.

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