I began running weekly construction meetings at a very early time in my career. My duties were to write agendas and run the meetings. During each of the meetings one of the older engineers would always pull out a piece of paper and circulate it around the table for people to sign in with their name, organization, and contact information. During the meeting he would constantly be taking notes or have another person with him taking notes for him.
At the end of one of the meetings he gave me the following advice which has saved my butt on a number of occasions. He said “I used to work for a company that handled a lot of construction related lawsuits so I know how difficult it is for people to agree on what they said at a meeting 8 months ago. A way you can protect yourself from the he said she said game is to take really great notes and have everyone sign in. Then send a copy of the sign in sheet and notes to the attendees either after the meeting or at the next meeting. You always want a record of what was said and proof that your version of the story was not disputed.”
This of course was great advice. Civil engineers need to do a great deal of coordination during the life of a project and projects typically have such a long lifetime that remembering a decision that was made a year ago can be challenging at best. Since meetings are an inherent part of our work, it is imperative to have great meeting skills. These skills include documenting a meeting by using agendas, sign in sheets, and note taking skills.
The Take Away
Here is a list of things to do during a meeting:
Have a written agenda: Every formal meeting should have an agenda. The agenda keeps people on task so they do not take the conversation into other topics. They are fairly easy to make and in their simplest form only include a couple of words that describe the issue that needs to be discussed. Ideally the agenda should be sent out in advance so people will know what the meeting is going to be about and can adequately prepare for it.
The only reason to have a meeting in the first place is to get the decision makers in one place so they can decide on the next course of action. It is impossible to write everything that is said in a meeting, so unless you are a courtroom reporter, it is best to focus on only writing down decisions, actionable items, and who is responsible. I will typically write all three items down next to the corresponding agenda item.
Circulate a sign in sheet:
These are important for everyone to have in case they need to get in contact with someone from the meeting. Always include the sign in sheets when sending the notes out.
If you have access to administrative personnel it is perfectly acceptable to ask them to type out your hand written notes and send them to the attendees via email. However if time nor resources allow for you to hand this task off to an administrative person, hand written notes are acceptable to send our via fax provided that they are legible.
The most important thing here is to have a record you can point to in 2 months or even 2 years. It could save you a lot of trouble in a dispute and may even save your job.
What kind of tools do you use during meetings to keep track of decisions?