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This Is Why the CEO of YCombinator Keeps Talking About Meeting Notes
  • Publish: June 16, 2021
  • Author: Nick Jordan
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Meeting Notes Are The Foundation Of Remote Orgs

Meeting notes are one of the most valuable things you can do for yourself and your team.

Yet, the number of people who have sent me a recap of our meeting is closer to 0 than 1.

No one does it.

Except for me and everyone on my team, multiple times per day.

Here are a few things meeting notes will do for you:

  • Impress your manager
  • Create more value for your colleagues and peers
  • Hold someone accountable, especially people that don’t report to you
  • Communicate important rhetoric
  • Remember the conversation you had next month
  • Correct a verbal miscommunication

Take meeting notes.

Not convinced?

Here is what Michael Siebel, CEO of Ycombinator has to say about capturing notes during meetings.

This is one of the most impactful ways you can spend your time and multiply the value you’re already creating.

Here are the lies people tell themselves on why it’s too much work:

  1. I’ll definitely remember everything that was discussed next week, or in 3 months
  2. Everyone on the call will definitely walk away with the same understanding as me
  3. Sally will definitely remember the action item I mentioned at minute 42 of our meeting and deliver it without me reminding her
  4. This meeting was important enough to attend, but not to document

Here are a few real-life situations meeting notes have proved invaluable

Starting a new job

Joining a new company or starting a new job is often quite overwhelming. There’s so much information to take in, digest, and understand that you may feel like your head’s going to explode.

Writing things down will facilitate learning and retention, especially if you’re a newcomer to the team and don’t fully understand everything discussed in meetings.

It takes the average employee 3–6 months to ramp up to full productivity, but a new employee who accurately captures every conversation they’re a part of can add value on day one.

Impressing your manager

Managers, executives, and CEOs are likely overwhelmingly busy.

Capturing meeting notes for your manager frees them up to move onto the next thing.

Meeting recaps also allow them to stay in the loop on projects they are tracking and keep a finger on the pulse of the business, even if they weren’t physically present at the meeting.

Don’t wait for your manager to approach you and ask for information. Show initiative!

Email the meeting recap to them with all the talking points explained and all action items neatly listed. I can guarantee your manager will appreciate both the notes and the fact that you’re taking the initiative and helping improve the company’s processes.

Next time there’s talk of promotions, you’ll be at the very top of the list.

Holding everyone accountable

How do you hold someone accountable for something that hasn’t been written down?

I can tell you from experience, you really can’t.

This is especially true when the person you need to hold accountable doesn’t report to you.

It’s even worse when a project spans over several months. You can’t reasonably expect someone to remember what you said at that meeting a month and a half ago.

At that point, it’s your word against theirs. And the more someone has on their plate, the harder it is to remember all the verbal agreements.

The solution? Write everything down!

Getting commitments in writing is the foundation for holding people accountable.

Communicating something important

“When you’re tired of saying it, people are starting to hear it’ – Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn

Jeff goes on quote David Gergen, a recognized expert on communication, and advisor to 4 different American Presidents from both political parties, in his famous LinkedIn article,

“History teaches that almost nothing a leader says is heard if spoken only once.”

When you’re shifting the direction of your business, revamping your processes, bringing on a huge new client/account, or making any impactful changes—anything that’s particularly important, it’s not enough to communicate it once, nor is it enough to communicate it verbally.

You need to reiterate your messaging.

When you repeat something a dozen times, you reduce forgetfulness and eliminate confusion and misunderstanding. When you write it down, you don’t need to waste time and energy saying the same thing over and over again.

Taking meeting notes and documenting everything allows your team to re-read the message as many times as necessary until they understand it fully and internalize it.

Whenever you have an important announcement to share with the team, make sure to write it down!

Remembering what you did….last week

Last week I had 30 meetings. That’s approximately 6 meetings a day.

Let’s pretend each meeting is only 30 minutes. That’s 3 hours of meetings per day.

Add all other tasks on top, and by Friday, I can’t even remember my name, let alone what I discussed in every one of the 30 meetings I had.

This week looks lighter; I only have 20 meetings scheduled. But it’s only Tuesday. By Friday, this week’s schedule will probably be just as cramped.

Relying on my memory is a recipe for disaster. I talk about at least a dozen different topics every single day, and I’m blessed with a terrible memory.

But there’s no reason to let your poor memory prevent you from achieving your goals.

Rely on recaps. Save the memories for that vacation in Greece.

Did You Miscommunicate?

Regardless of what was said during the meeting, the meeting notes become the objective truth once it’s over.

Whoever writes the meeting notes controls the truth.

If I misspeak or miscommunicate in a meeting, I’m updating the meeting notes to reflect what I intended to say.

By adding a single line in the meeting recap, you can identify and correct any miscommunication issues before the communication issue becomes a problem.

That line is: “Please let me know if I forgot or misheard anything.” This encourages all the meeting participants to go over the notes and, where necessary, reply with corrections.

Skip more meetings

How often do you attend meetings where only one or two people talk, and everyone else just sits there with the “what the hell am I doing here” expression on their face?

Many people attend meetings they shouldn’t have to, where other departments talk about their projects and problems that are only relevant to three out of the fifteen people present.

A study by Doodle suggests that unproductive meetings cost businesses up to $400 billion per year.

Why would the entire team have to sit through an hour-long meeting when they could devote that time to actual work?

Meeting notes enable those people to skip the meeting and focus on something else.

How to build a culture of meeting notes

You can’t just show up at work one day and say: “I want everyone to take meeting notes from now on.”

Taking meeting notes is an inherently public action. The very first step in rolling out note-taking into your organization is leading by example.

The process needs to start from the top because meeting notes are a lot of work. Your team is busy with all of the other priorities you’ve communicated, and they won’t adopt note-taking unless you show it’s a priority to you by making time for it yourself.

Your consistency and attention to detail are going to impact how your team embraces note-taking.

If you rush meeting notes out with poor attention to detail and sloppy formatting, that’s what your team is going to do.

Dedicate the time to write detailed, well-formatted, and actionable meeting notes, and eventually, your team will pick up the habit.

Rolling this out to your team

Before you roll out note-taking to the team, we need to clearly define how the notes are taken, who needs to take them, what the process looks like, and how they are distributed.

We did this for you!

  • When notes should be captured
  • Who should receive the notes
  • When notes should be sent
  • Who is responsible for capturing notes
  • How to format the notes for clarity and information density

The best way to implement note-taking is to start with people who report directly to you. Once they get into the habit of report taking, hold your managers accountable for people who report to them.

Work your way down until everyone in the organization is taking notes.

When meeting notes should be captured

The best note-taking happens live during the call as things are discussed.

Of course, you can’t and shouldn’t write down everything. Note-taking doesn’t mean you’re transcribing everything as it’s being said.

Verbal communication exceeds the throughput of typing, so the best approach is to jot down notes as bullets, fill in the gaps, and add explanations right after the meeting.

When meeting notes should be sent

Notes should be sent the same day, ideally right after the meeting.

The idea behind the notes is to document all the crucial information shared in the meeting, to avoid miscommunication and misremembering. If you send meeting notes two days after the meeting, chances are you won’t remember everything correctly.

If notes aren’t sent soon enough, the gaps in your shorthand notes become fuzzy.

A same-day policy enables flexibility during meeting heavy days while maintaining tight expectations.

Who needs to receive the meeting notes

The answer to this question largely depends on the structure of your organization, but it boils down to everyone whose work is or will be impacted by the information shared in the meeting.

The nature of the meeting itself will also influence the decision of who to include in the email when you’re sending the meeting notes.

In general, you always want to send the notes to everyone who attended the meeting, as well as every person on the team who will benefit from the information or needs to stay in the loop.

At first, it’s best to share the information with people even if you’re not sure whether or not it’s relevant to them. As you take more and more notes, you’ll become more proficient in discerning who needs to receive the information and who doesn’t.

In our organization, I receive approximately 10 meeting recaps per week covering:

  • Systems & process changes
  • Project management updates
  • Hiring and HR reports
  • Customer meetings
  • Marketing updates

The meeting notes allow me to watch and understand the decision-making process of my team, jump in with an opinion on the things I’m tracking, and skip most of the meetings.

Pro tip: CC yourself when sending out the email. This sends the recap to your inbox, allowing you to archive it in a folder for easy later reference.

Who’s responsible for note taking

Note that this section is only applicable after you’ve successfully rolled out note-taking across your organization.

Until you’re there, it needs to come from the top: from you, to your reports, to their reports, etc.

Once all of your managers are consistently taking notes, it’s time to roll out responsibilities to individual contributors.

In most internal meetings, we’ll rotate between the most junior team members on the call.

That doesn’t mean managers don’t take notes; It means they take fewer notes. When my managers meet with their managers or me, they’re the ones taking notes.

With that said, when the need for clarity is high, the person with the most at stake will take notes.

If I’m leading a high-stakes discussion where misunderstanding or forgetfulness is not acceptable, I’m taking the notes and sending the recaps.

How to format meeting notes (examples)

Meeting notes need to be succinct, well-formatted, and appropriately structured. They need to cover all the talking points and provide a sufficient explanation of each topic that you discussed in the meeting.

Your goal when writing notes should be to format and structure them so that a person who didn’t attend the meeting could read them in less than five minutes but still get all the relevant information from them.

Here are some examples.

Example #0 – Very Bad

Good:

  • The recap was sent

Bad:

  • Everything else
  • Notes are not grouped under relevant topics
  • Action items (AC) are not consolidated in their own section and are mixed within notes
  • A follow up email indicates 99% of the discussion was not captured

Example #1 – Not Great

Good:

  • Notes are organized under relevant categories
  • Each thought is short and to the point

Bad:

  • No bullet points used
  • No action items indicated
  • No request to add any missing or misheard information

Example #2 – Better

Good:

  • Notes are grouped under relevant sections
  • Bullet points are used to communicate each thought

Bad:

  • No “Please let me know if I forgot or misheard anything”
  • Action items not called out
  • Weird, non-standardized spacing between some bullets and sections

Example #3 – Good

Good:

  • Topics are consolidated under relevant sections
  • Bullet points are used to communicate each piece of information
  • Highlighting is used to indicate action items
  • Consistent spacing between bullets and sections

Bad:

  • Does not start email with “Please let me know if I forgot or misheard anything”

 

In 2020 our agency grew from 1 to 25 FTEs. In 2021 we might hit 75.

None of us have ever done this before.

And we’re figuring it out in public.

  1. Join our Remote Operations community
  2. Follow Nick on Twitter
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