The role of the minute taker

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The Role of a Minute-Taker
A minute-taker is someone who is responsible for the notes regarding a particular meeting. If you’re also being asked to chair, act as treasurer, and make sure the coffee is ready, you’re actually going beyond your responsibilities.
In this lesson, you’ll explore what it means to be a minute-taker. We’ll also explore some common problems and share some useful solutions.
What is a Minute-Taker?
About the Minute-Taker
There are people who avoid taking minutes if at all possible and who are intimidated by the idea of taking minutes because they are unsure of what they are supposed to do. Or, they may be afraid of missing important details. However, being a minute-taker can:

  • Give you access to other members of the group.
  • Keep you up to date on what is going on in the organization.
  • Enable you to help the chair accomplish the goals of the organization.
  • Keep you more focused on what is being said, so your comments are relevant and your interpretation of what happened is accurate.

Sometimes we feel like accepting the role of minute-taker is the worst possible job; everyone else participates in the meeting but the minute-taker has the extra responsibility to keep up with what is going on. However, there are lots of benefits for a minute-taker that many participants miss out on. The minute-taker plays a vital role within the meeting structure and can choose to exercise their responsibilities wisely (or not). As well, the minute-taker has legitimate, easy access to other members of the meeting, including those in key positions.
Other Names for the Minute-Taker
The minute-taker has a number of names: recording secretary, secretary, note taker, recorder. In many meetings, the chair may act as recorder, but this is not recommended because it prevents the chair from devoting their full attention to the discussion and may result in incomplete minutes.
Note: According to Robert’s Rules of Order, if the chair is absent and there is no vice-chair, the secretary should call the meeting to order and preside over it until the meeting elects a chair pro tem (for the time being).

The Purpose of Minutes
What is the purpose of minutes? They are a clear summary of proceedings, a means of conveying information, a reminder for future actions, and a historical background on decisions of the group.
Minutes should be written to provide all the members with the following information:

  • How issues were discussed and finally resolved.
  • The names of individuals who were assigned specific tasks and the dates these tasks are to be completed.
  • Resolutions.
  • Motions (which are recorded word for word).

Minutes are considered legal documents. It is this aspect of minute-taking that can scare people off from volunteering for the role, but a course like this one emphasizes that with some knowledge and practice, minute-taking gets easier, and the benefits become even more apparent.
Problems and Solutions
Minute-taking problems usually include:

  • A weak chair who can’t keep participants on track
  • Speakers who mumble, ramble, or speak too fast
  • Speakers who are disorganized
  • Chairs and speakers who give vague directions
  • Speakers who ask the minute-taker to create motions around their comments
  • Too many people talking at once
  • Distractions
  • Not following the agenda
  • An impossibly long agenda
  • Motions made at top speed
  • Speakers not identifying themselves
  • Negative people
  • Power hungry people
  • Unprepared members
  • Not being allowed to have a break when members have one
  • Being sent out of the meeting to make coffee or photocopies

Try these solutions:

  • Helping the chair by preparing an agenda
  • Setting timelines in conjunction with the chair
  • Suggesting members prepare notes ahead of time if they are to speak at length on an issue
  • Setting ground rules that only one person speak at a time