Action Minutes Make Sure Good Ideas Do Not Get Away

Action Minutes Make Sure Good Ideas Do Not Get Away
Action Minutes Make Sure Good Ideas Do Not Get Away

Board of Trustees

Think of the expertise that’s in the room every time your Board of Trustees meets. What a tremendous resource—and here’s the opportunity to tap it. Still, you’ve noticed that great ideas and suggestions can slip away. They pop up during a discussion, but that information isn't captured in the standard Board minutes.

Beyond the formal minutes of Board meetings, you should also have “action minutes” that capture casual suggestions or observations and turn them into agreed-on tasks. They force members to be specific, and assign responsibility for following up on good ideas. And they create consensus on what is to be done.

For example, during a discussion, a Trustee might say, “Great idea—we should look into it,” or “Betty’s committee could handle that project.” Three meetings later, you realize there’s been no plan for follow-up. Or, worse yet, everyone’s forgotten the matter entirely.

Here’s another common occurrence. How often does a Board discussion stay on track from start to finish? The topic may be facilities, but one comment triggers another and soon you’re into a mini-brainstorming session on a different matter. Problems, solutions, offers of assistance, and ideas come up—and are lost when you refocus the group on the original topic.

Effective action minutes serve as a “to-do” list. They define the task and who will carry it out, set a deadline, and include any pertinent suggestions for strategy—without stifling the individual’s or committee’s initiative. In short, action minutes turn good intentions into accomplishments.

The “who” of keeping action minutes is almost as important as the “why.” Do not add this job to your regular minute-taker’s duties. The person in charge of action minutes must listen for different elements in the discussion. Also, this individual should have authority, but no direct responsibility, for running the meeting. You need the right person for this job.

  • The action-minute-taker should be detail-oriented and able to pick out implied tasks from the general dialogue. This person must stay alert throughout the meeting, keeping three questions constantly on his or her mind: Is this an idea worth retaining? Has someone just committed to something? What have we talked about that requires follow-up?
  • Because taking action minutes should never interrupt the flow of the discussion, this individual must be able to capture specifics and identify any “blanks” that need to be filled in. Do we need to clarify who should handle this task? What steps does it include? What’s the deadline?
  • This person also must be relentless when it comes to follow-up and deadlines, checking to make sure that each action item is carried through and adjusting as necessary.

The action-minute-taker’s final responsibility at each meeting is to read these minutes aloud. This gives Trustees an opportunity to react, clarify, refine the assignments and deadlines, and reach consensus.

Because action minutes do not become part of the Board’s official, long-term record, no formal approval is needed. Also, language can be informal—the goal is a quick read. Just make sure that everyone, even members who did not attend, can easily understand what is to be accomplished and how.

Design action minutes for quick response. Where formal Board minutes may go through a series of read-and-correct revisions, agree on these minutes on the spot.

Then write it all down and email a copy to Trustees—and anyone else assigned a responsibility—within 24 hours. That way, “action” minutes live up to their name.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Trustees Vol. 16 No. 6 The ‘Marriage’ of the Board President and School Head
The Source for Trustees Vol. 14 No. 6 The New Board President and the Head-Elect: A Working Relationship

Additional resources for ISM members:
I&P Vol. 43 No. 7 The New Board President
I&P Vol. 41 No. 16 Essential Expectations of the Board President