The minutes as a structuring element

The horror from school? Who takes the minutes? True, this task is not tingling. Nevertheless, it must be completed in order to make the course of discussions and decisions comprehensible.

What should the minutes include?

Header data: In the header data, the place, the date, the moderator, the reporter and those present are noted.

If there are people coming to a meeting for the first time, an introduction round is inserted at the beginning. At it minutes are not being taken.

Emotional session: An organisational meeting starts with an emotional session. At this point, everyone can briefly say how he/she is doing or how his/her day has gone. Is anyone tired or hungry or had a stressful working day? Knowing this can help to better understand someone else’s answer. Minutes are not being taken during the emotional session.  One way to loosen the emotional session is to use the surrealistic playing cards of the community game Dixit. You place all the cards in the middle of the group and everyone can take a card that suits their current emotional state. Dixite-like pictures can also be found on this Pinterest page. However, some time must be allocated for this action, because everyone needs some time to look at all the cards and choose one.

Reports: Afterwards all working groups report on past or future actions, problems or successes. At this point we only want to report. If discussion points should arise in this phase, they will first be prioritized and then discussed under the heading “General topics”. This should prevent the topics that are mentioned first from getting the most discussion time. There may be important issues, e.g. from the last meeting, which may not be discussed when items mentioned at the beginning are discussed directly.

Old tasks: Here all tasks are listed that were agreed upon at the last meeting. The purpose of this job controlling is that no task is forgotten. Important: It is not about controlling to sanction. Rather, this listing is a way for a group to see what has been achieved or to redistribute tasks if someone was unable to complete his/her task.

New tasks: All tasks that arise during the meeting are entered under this agenda item. It is best to note down the tasks directly with a responsible AG or person. Sometimes tasks can only be recorded for the time being so that they can be assigned at a later session.

When agreeing on such a list of tasks, care must be taken to keep these lists stringent. Because this list can quickly develop into a memory for the group. Everything that is not on this task list runs the risk of being forgotten. Especially when the participants of a meeting change from meeting to meeting.

General topics: This is the first point of discussion. Ideally, all topics are first collected and prioritized either by the moderator or by the group. Depending on the time budget for this part of the session and the number of topics to be discussed, it may be a good idea to agree for a period of time for a particular topic. If you do this, it is also advisable to agree what happens when the time for the topic to be discussed has expired.

If it‘s not working …

This type of meta agreement (“Discussion after reports and old/new tasks”) does not work in every group. It depends on the characters the group consists of. For people who are used to discuss directly without worrying about the structure of the discussion, these process discussions are unfamiliar. For them it can have a braking and energy-sapping effect to hold such discussions. Then the moderator should briefly explain the motivation for such a meta discussion. This can increase the acceptance of such an interruption.

If it‘s working, …

A previous agreement about duration and hoped-for result can prevent a group from breaking up and being dissatisfied with what has been discussed. Systemic consensing counters this negative tendency by putting the next action to a vote, e.g. by asking the questions “Is there resistance to discuss the topic further now” or vice versa “Is there resistance to not discuss the topic further now and to continue communication by e-mail?

Appointments: The list of future appointments allows everyone in the group to receive an update at each meeting about the upcoming appointments. Knowing what will happen in the near future or what interesting events will be held in the future can also help to strengthen the group feeling.

Feedback session: The feedback session at the end of a meeting serves to give everyone the opportunity to express their opinion about the ongoing discussion process. There is room here for criticism as well as praise and thanks. But it is important that no one has to give her/his feedback. Whether and to what extent the criticism expressed may be answered should at best be agreed in advance.

If it‘s working, …

If the feedback session is accepted as a structural element within a group, it can be the moment that prevents someone from going home frustrated. Here is room to say, for example, “I am dissatisfied with how we have not met our time limit today. I said in advance that I have to leave on time today, but that it is important for me to stay until the end of the meeting. I don’t feel perceived in my opinion” or “I am totally happy with what we have achieved today. The way you hosted the meeting today was great – thanks for that!”!

If it‘s not working …

It can happen that the feedback session becomes a hollow task that no one really takes seriously. This may have something to do with people feeling uncomfortable expressing their needs or problems. It may result in them making fun of the session. Maybe because they’re not used to it, maybe because they don’t need it. One way to counter this is for the first person in the group to give a particularly detailed and honest feedback. The way the first person gives their feedback is a point of reference for the other people. This also applies to the emotional session at the beginning.

As an alternative to an open feedback session, you can simply create a mood barometer using a thumb query. All people in the group put their thumbs in the middle of the round and show with their thumbs up and down what their mood or energy level is like. Of course, you can also do the exercise in between. This doesn’t give you any further information about exactly what was good or bad for a person, but at least the moderator knows what feeling prevails in the group – and of course the group itself.

Atmosphere manager: During the meeting, the atmosphere manager has the task of keeping an eye on the group atmosphere. He/she has the right to intervene if the mood in the group threatens to change. There are various possibilities for intervention. She / he can …

… say that she/he feels the mood to be tense and that all people should take a deep breath after all.

… suggest that everyone take a short break and come back in five minutes.

Of course, anyone can do this in a well-rehearsed group and no special manager is needed anymore. Especially at the beginning of a group phase, however, this special position may allow the atmosphere manager to criticize the current discussion culture from a neutral position. This person then merely fulfils his task and no special reasons are impute.


Stories of Success

For the TransitionHaus Bayreuth group, the minutes have emerged as an important structuring element for their meetings. The minutes are created online in a wiki so that they are available immediately after each meeting and can be modified by everyone. (It is recommended to name minutes with the same name prefix, e.g. “20170915_TransitionHaus_Minutes”, so that they can be filed well-assorted, immediately after the meeting). At each “Orga round” the participants are guided by the minutes.