Let’s dispel a myth about board minutes straight out of the gate - they are not notes. Board minutes actually serve as the official legal record for board meetings. This means they are very important — they are used for tracking progress, determining strategy, understanding next steps, and serving as a general reference point for what discussions are had and decisions are made at a board meeting.
So shouldn’t they be prioritised?
The answer is yes, but unfortunately, they are often undervalued. Good minutes are an essential record-keeping tool and are necessary for any board to operate effectively. Now that we know we are going to value minutes as a tool - how do we make them good?
There is no set of rules for what must be in meeting minutes, but there is a best practice in order to capture the most important content. For example, the date of the meeting, where it was held, who was in attendance, decisions up for a vote, who voted, and the outcome of any votes should likely be included in the minutes. Boards do need to decide how they want to record any sensitive information. Blue Avocado states that “Minutes should indicate that the board met, and report on the topic of the discussion, although the specifics may be confidential and appear only in a set of confidential-to-the-board minutes or other notes.”
It might seem obvious, but minutes should be taken in a format that is organised and makes sense. If there are abbreviations that the organisation utilises, those should be noted somewhere in the minutes so that there is no confusion. Many boards have a system from noting in their minutes when a decision has been made or when a vote has been taken - this makes it easier for reference later on. Similar to content - there is no right or wrong way to format minutes, and there is no rule, but the board should have an agreed-upon format that makes sense and that is consistent in order to make reading these often comprehensive materials, easy.
Yes, simplicity. Minutes have traditionally been taken by hand by a secretary in some capacity (hand, typewriter, computer). The minutes then have to be reviewed, printed, packed and sent to board members in the mail (real mail!). This is time-consuming and not cost-effective - postage is expensive, and board members oftentimes are not local - they can live all around the globe. Digital tools have made it easier for minutes to all get handled within a secure portal. With Shaparency, for example, meetings are all taken and managed in the secure portal. This allows board members to refer to previous minutes with ease, and they can get sent directly to members just before a meeting straight through the portal, increasing the likelihood that they are actually reviewed.
Board minutes are critically important to any effectively functioning board. So think about how you take minutes, and ask yourself - what can we do better?