Do We Need To Write This Down?

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Of course you have heard this question. Everybody has! The answer is probably yes. If you even wonder whether you should write something down… do it. Being the person to remind the group of writing results down – or even doing it yourself without even asking that question – might trigger your colleagues to wonder why you insist on this. So let’s quickly review the top three possible reasons.

Because You Have Trust Issues…?

That’s a good one. If you attend a meeting and everybody discusses a topic vividly, it may seem like you’re dealing with trust issues if you insist on writing everything down in the end. You’re all sitting in the same room (or virtual room) and you all agree on the next steps, so what will writing this down solve other than your trust issues? The funny thing is – trust issues may arise if you frequently have meetings where nothing is written down, and later on, you remember something in a different way than someone else. So while this is not the real reason why you should write something down at the end of a meeting, it certainly is related.

Because You Are Bad At Remembering Stuff…?

It seems to be quite common to project the reasons why something is requested solely on the person who asked for it. Especially in the work place, that is not always the case. You may be very good at remembering stuff, but nonetheless you suggest to take some notes. That is because you are part of an environment where certain rules – explicitly or implicitly – should be adhered to, and you consider note taking to be one of them. In a well functioning group, everybody is equally responsible for sticking to the established rules, and with you reminding everybody, you just do your job as a group member.

Because You Don’t Have Anything Else To Do…?

Finding the time to meet and discuss a topic may be tricky for some of us. So naturally, we’re glad when the meeting is over and we can go back to the gazillion of other tasks that we have to complete by today EOB. However, it is an underlying misconception that a meeting is over when you leave the room. The meeting owner (or moderator) should reserve some time afterwards to take notes and post-process the meeting. If they cannot do it themselves, they should definitely delegate this task to someone else. Best practice is to let that person know in advance, so that they can already take notes during the meeting. You can also make it a habit and rotate this task, so that everybody will be taking notes at some point.

The Real Reasons Why You Absolutely Need To Write This Down

Yes, you really need to write this down. No, it will not be sufficient if everybody just remembers it. There is a fine line between things you need to have in written form and things that are fine as they are. If it will take longer to take those notes than to complete what was agreed upon in the meeting, of course there’s no need to write this down. However, if you will have the same issue or question again in a few weeks, documenting it on your company’s wiki may be an option to avoid going through the same discussions over and over again. If someone really asks whether you need to write this down, that’s what you can answer:

  • We need to document this in order to stay consistent with future decisions. This is the case described above – there might be similar discussions on other departments, or you might have the same issue a few months in the future. It will help your leadership style if you stay consistent with what was already decided. It will also help yourself to understand your own decisions. If you find a different agreement in the future, your colleagues or employees will also highly value it if you come back to them with an updated suggestion pro-actively. A written document will also give them the opportunity to come back to you with a change request.
  • We should document this for colleagues who didn’t participate in the meeting today. It mght be the case that your group or department was complete that day, but two months later, you have a new colleague joining the initiative. It will take a lot of someone’s time (much more than taking notes would have) to fill the new person in on all the details. Additionally, it will be a subjective summary – because that’s how our brains work. We all just remember selective information, and never the full story.
  • If someone new joins the company, they should be able to know what the meeting was about. Your colleague may decide to leave tomorrow, and will be replaced by someone who doesn’t know anything about the company. You will never know! So having something in a written form, especially if several people base part of their working time on these agreements, is super helpful for someone new as a head start into their new position.
  • It will take longer to complete all the tasks, so having an option to go back to the original agreements will help us to stay focused. Again, this is about the nice selection your brain does when it comes to information. You might remember a lot on the day after the meeting, and even the next week. But imagine you’re just working on one of the several action items that were decided during the meeting for weeks, or even months. Your brain will ‘learn’ that this is the important information, and gradually free up space in your head by deleting other ‘not important’ information. This means you might have a hard time remembering what else was decided during the meeting.
  • We should all have a document to refer to in order to hold each other accountable. This refers to the reason above. If you’re having a hard time to remember what was decided during that meeting, let alone the words you used, it will be difficult to hold someone accountable for not doing something. Because – was it their task? Did you say this? Or not…? The same accounts for your own tasks. If you do not follow up on them, you need to be held accountable for it by your boss, your peers or your employees. They cannot do this without a written form of what you were supposed to do.

There may be additional reasons to take notes – these are just the ones that came to my mind immediately. So to answer this question, once and for all: Yes, you should definitely write this down.

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