Speed up your meetings with pre-written meeting minutes

When I joined dotHIV we had weekly jour fixe meetings via Google Hangout that easily took one hour with a team of five. Today we barely ever break the 30 minute mark and no one has to keep tabs to create the meeting minutes afterwards. Our meetings are fun again, productive for us and produce a well-made protocol afterwards.

The problem with our old meetings

We use our jour fixe meetings to get everyone up to speed on what's happening in all departments. At dotHIV that would be the work of the charitable organization, finances, marketing, sales, and development.
Once everyone was settled in we took turns in telling what we did in the last week and provide an outlook for the coming week. With a five person team everyone would take up to 15 minutes recollecting everything that happened and answer questions from the others as they came up–which would regularly spiral off into discussions. We tried to use timeboxes but this didn't work out very well because there were so many exciting things going on during the week. Everyone is forced to listen to things that might not be relevant to him, which they had prior knowledge about or they were just not capable of processing right now because they were preoccupied.

And then there was the one poor soul that had to make sense of everything and put it into writing because we wanted to have meeting minutes for ourselves and as a weekly report delivered to our extended team and the investors. I think you now that writing meeting minutes for topics that you are not an expert for is cumbersome and produces a result that no one is really happy with.

Introducing: pre-written meeting minutes

The first thing I wanted to change was the time spent on the telling part. So I asked everyone to contribute a compact written summary to a Google Doc. I provided a template with sections for every person. This report hat to be done two hours prior to our meeting so there would be enough time to read through the report. Questions are added to the top of the document or as notes and we go through each one of them during the jour fixe.

This is the intro text in our template:

We create the meeting minutes for our weekly Jour Fixe beforehand. Everyone reports what they deems noteworthy from their "department" until two hours before the meeting in a Google Doc. Keep it brief, this should be one or two sentences. If there is something to explain in detail, write it down in a separate document. During the Jour Fixe we only talk about a topic, if someone has a question about it! No reciting of topics most participants already know anyway. This is also the place to ask specific team members about their commitment to a task. Commitments will then be added as task items in Trello.

What's great about this approach: the meeting minutes are done when the meeting starts and during the meeting we can focus on the things that matter. We discuss the open questions concerning the report and then we have a lot more time to socialize, crack jokes and talk about the small things–which we couldn't before because we didn't have the time.