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The minute-taker… the power behind the throne!

8th November 2016 | Joanna Gutmann

The minute-taker… the power behind the throne!

Some chairpersons choose to proactively involve the minute-taker and welcome their support in managing the meeting and ensuring good outcomes. At the other extreme, a few chairpersons can quickly forget that the minute-taker is present. It can be seen that the successful management of the meeting is dependent on the acknowledgement of the importance of the minute-taker.

The role of minute-taker is often seen as being silent; however, this can be far from the truth. Whilst minute-takers should never take over the management of the meeting, or express their own opinions, they do have the responsibility to interrupt the meeting in order to document the minutes correctly. If that also improves the management of the meeting, so much the better:

  • The chairperson forgets to do introductions and apologies, and begins with ‘Minutes of the Previous Meeting’

The professional minute-taker should interrupt with, “Before you start, are there any apologies I should note?  And may I have your names for the minutes,” or “Excuse me, can I send around this sign-in sheet.”

  • The chairperson allows reading of the minutes and subsequent discussion, but forgets to state their approval.

The professional minute-taker should ask, “Excuse me, can I note the minutes are approved?”

  • The chairperson fails to check up on a couple of actions due for completion.

The professional minute-taker should interrupt with, “Excuse me, I’ve nothing noted for action x.”

  • The chairperson doesn’t separate ‘Minutes’ and ‘Matters Arising’, using the previous minutes to merge both.

The professional minute-taker should take a copy of the previous minutes into the meeting with actions clearly marked up. As corrections are agreed they can be handwritten for later typing; as actions are confirmed as completed, the minute-taker should put a clear line through them to indicate that they are finished. Where an action is not complete, a cross through it highlights this with a note in the margin of the update, new deadline, etc. This should enable a quick visual check before they move on to ensure all actions are accounted for.

  • The chairperson moves from one item to the next without a final decision being clear

The professional minute-taker should interrupt with, “Excuse me, before we move on to item 8, what would you like me to minute as the decision for item 7.”

  • The chairperson doesn’t make it clear who is responsible for making a decision happen

The professional minute-taker should ask, “Who should I record as being responsible for that?  What is the deadline for x?”

  • The chairperson gives every deadline as ‘next meeting’

The professional minute-taker types this up as the date of the meeting where applicable, but where the action involves circulating papers, preparing figures, etc, gives the date of the agenda so the information can be circulated.

  • The chairperson allows an argument to break out

The professional minute-taker takes a rest and listens after noting the subject of the argument. When the discussion finally comes together, notes the outcome.

  • The chairperson takes the agenda out of order and jumps back and forth between items.

The professional minute-taker keeps the agenda to hand and crosses off items as they are finished. At the end of the meeting, interrupts with, “Before we close, what would you like me to minute as the outcome for item x?”

  • The chairperson closes the meeting by giving the date of the next meeting

The professional minute-taker interrupts to ask for items for the agenda, papers, etc to be submitted by the date of the agenda.

Many minute-takers are uncomfortable interrupting the meeting; however, just as everyone else is in the room for the knowledge they bring, the minute-takers is there for the skill and focus on the minutes.

For most, it is a case of appearing confident even if they do not feel it… tips on that are for a later blog.


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