If you think that a "committee is a body that keeps minutes and wastes hours," then you're in company with dozens of readers from at least 1934 to the present.
In the real world, however, keeping minutes should help you save hours -- hours wasted trying to remember who decided what, when and why. When it's your job to write and maintain the minutes for an organization, first determine what elements your minutes need to include, and then find or create a template that includes those elements.
Why Minutes Matter
Meeting minutes provide transparency in your organization's decision-making and serve as an important record of the decisions a group makes. They also make members accountable by clearly stating any actions members have agreed to take. Over time, they are a resource for the history of an organization, helping new members come up to speed with issues and decisions and providing a window into the growth of an organization. Depending on your organization's complexity and focus, minutes may be either a concise summary or a detailed accounting.
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Elements of Effective Minutes
Regardless of your organization's size or the number of people in your meeting, the minimum amount of information that meeting minutes should include is:
- Date, time and list of attendees
- Update/recap of the previous meeting's minutes
- The meeting agenda
- A record of any decisions or votes
- A clear statement of any action items, or "to dos"
If your organization needs precise accountability and detailed minutes, Robert's Rules of Order, commonly used by organizations as a guideline for running meetings, defines the important elements and forms of minutes.
Using Word Templates
Word offers a range of templates for meeting minutes.
Select File and then New. Enter "minutes" as a search term and press Enter. This search returns a few dozen templates, 12 of which are specific to meetings, some labeled as "formal," some "informal" and some specific to organizations such as PTAs. For meeting minutes, narrow your search by selecting Meeting in the right sidebar.
For the purposes of this example, click Formal Meeting Minutes in order to consider the most robust set of elements to include, and then click the Create button to launch a Word document based on this template.
Analyze the template and consider the elements to include, given your organization's needs. For a more casual gathering, you might, for instance, replace the Call to order section with a more informal section that includes just the meeting date, location and time, or replace the Roll call section with simple list of attendees.
Replace the text fields with content relevant to your organization by double-clicking on the placeholder text and typing your own content. For instance, click on the list item Open issue/summary of discussion and enter your own text.
Many templates, including this one, contain fields for data, such as the organization name, officers or certain common elements. After you enter text into a field, that text populates all instances of the field -- for instance, "Secretary Name" is a field that, after you enter "Benjamin Franklin," populates every other instance of that field.
After each point, detail important points of the discussion as well as the final decision or action required. Consider using sub-heads such as "Discussion" and "Action" to help ensure that you address the salient points.
Creating Your Own Minutes Template
While using a ready-made template is likely faster, you can instead create your own meeting minutes template and then re-use it for each meeting.
Open a Word document, select Heading 1 from the Styles group on the Home tab and enter your organization's name.
Add placeholders for your primary sections, applying Heading 2 if desired. These sections should reflect your own organization's requirements and should be consistent from meeting to meeting.
Apply Word styles as needed. To apply a style, for instance, a bulleted list style to agenda items, open the Styles sidebar by clicking on the arrow icon in the Styles group, and find and select a style.
Enter the specifics under each section. Address any point brought up during a meeting discussion that would help clarify the decisions should your committee or others need to revisit or understand your organization's history.
There is no single way to organize minutes. In this example, we have separated the agenda itself from the discussion, but you could combine these two elements instead.