How perfect is your memory? When you leave a group meeting, do you walk away remembering everything discussed and decided? If not, keep that pen and pad with you. And, if you’re the one facilitating meetings, it’s especially important for you to record the results of the meeting to keep the group’s commitment and follow-through. Meeting notes are more important than you think, and in fact, looking beyond just meeting minutes, facilitators need to be responsible for the meeting documentation. The documentation from a facilitated session serves as the official record of the results of the meeting. So, how do you know what to record?
At Leadership Strategies, we believe that it is the responsibility of the facilitator to ensure that participants agree with the documentation of the session before the session ends. We accomplish this by getting agreement from the participants that the information recorded by the facilitator during the session represents the official record of the session. In this way, the participants tend to pay closer attention to ensuring that all key information gets recorded during the session. After the session, the facilitator has the notes transcribed, edited and distributed to all participants.
What should be documented in a session? We believe that it is important to document four items in particular:
1. Decisions made during the session
As described in “The Secrets of Starting” chapter in my book, The Secrets of Facilitation, it is important to have a parking board for documenting decisions that are made during the session. Anytime the group reaches a decision, the facilitator should note to the group that a decision has been made and record the decision on the decisions list.
2. Actions assigned during the session
Likewise, anytime the group identifies an action that needs to be taken after the session, the facilitator should note to the group that an action has been identified and record the action on the actions list. Near the end of the session, the facilitator should ask the group to identify the person who should be responsible for making sure each action occurs and the date by when the action is needed.
3. Outstanding issues as a result of the session
In addition to decisions and actions, the facilitator must also be alert to identify times when participants are discussing issues that are outside the scope of the meeting or the current discussion. The facilitator should point out to the group that the issue is something that may be important to discuss but is off focus from the current topic. The facilitator should get agreement from the participant(s) to record the issue on the issues list and then redirect the conversation back to the topic at hand. When the facilitator reviews the issues list at the end of the session, all issues will either be resolved or moved to the action list. Technically, therefore, there will be no outstanding issues to document in the session notes.
4. Relevant analysis and comments made during the session
As the participants progress through the agenda, the facilitator will record comments that are made that pertain to the topic under discussion. Note that with facilitated sessions, the goal is for the group to have ownership of the decisions, issues, actions and analysis. Therefore, it is important NOT to identify in the documentation who made a specific comment.
The final documentation will also include notes added by the facilitator to add clarity or build context for the reader. Consider putting notes added by the facilitator in italics to differentiate these notes from information provided by the participants. So, fellow facilitators, what else do you think is important to record?
Certified Master Facilitator Michael Wilkinson is the CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, Inc., The Facilitation Company and author of the new The Secrets of Facilitation 2nd Edition, The Secrets to Masterful Meetings, and The Executive Guide to Facilitating Strategy. Leadership Strategies is a global leader in facilitation services, providing companies with dynamic professional facilitators who lead executive teams and task forces in areas like strategic planning, issue resolution, process improvement and others. The company is also a leading provider of facilitation training in the United States.