Run effective meetings. How to gain time with collaborative notes taking during a meeting ?

Meetings with à person or a group of people are common work scenario. Usually, we need to discuss a topic and come up with a list of ideas, actions or any other output to be validated by the participants. After the meeting we need to prepare a follow-up plan : 

  • at minimum, an action plan with list of actions 
  • at best, we need to have an action plan formalized, shared and validated by all participants

Well, it can be little tedious to prepare this kind of follow-up because often directly after the meeting we don’t have time to formalize and share it. Moreover, longer we wait more we forget what we have said during the meeting. And if we wait even more, the meeting participants start to ask about what has been decided. Moreover, sharing formalized notes from the meeting can be a source of tension when the participants don’t agree on the way the follow-up is formalized (ex. the wording or even conclusions). Finally, when you share one version and somebody wants to change it, you need to share and explain the new version to everybody.

To avoid this kind of situation and eventually to improve the meetings effectiveness we need to: 

  • Be able to validate and share the list of actions directly during the meeting
  • Avoid or reduce the time for:
    • reformulation/validation of actions after the meeting 
    • re-shared them with everybody after the meeting changes

One of the approach that helped me to improve this kind of situation was to systematically take notes in the collaborative way during the meeting. This approach is based on a technical solution which enables : 

  1. One document accessible remotely during and after the meeting by all meeting participants (ex. Google Doc or Office 365 Word document)
  2. Changes tracking and collaborate comments integrated directly in the document 

Let me give you some more details.

How to use collaborative notes during the meeting

I. One document accessible remotely during and after the meeting by all meeting participants

PS. All screenshot comes from google doc service, one of the solutions available on the market. Please find at the end some other possibles solutions.  

First, we want to have one document accessible remotely by all meeting members via laptop/tablet and any other connected device. Most of the time, people come with their laptops to the meeting.  And usually they use them to take notes (if they participate in the meeting 🙂 ). Well, instead of each of meeting participants works on a separate notes, the idea is to have one document so that everybody can see the notes taken by the person who is leading the meeting and other people can add or modify currently taken notes. 

It’s important that this document shows in real time all modifications of all participants. 

And this is the moment where the collaborative working is happening. Since all participants see other notes they can react to them. And if they don’t agree the way it’s formulated, they can directly reformulated. And if we ask everybody. “Well, are everybody ok with an idea number one ?”, when people say yes, they validate also the way the idea is formulated. So this is the moment when you integrate validation directly to the meeting notes taking. 

Moreover, since everybody sees the list of ideas growing it can react to other aspect of ideas generation such ideas synergies and overlapping. All of a sudden, merging two ideas into one complete is possible instantly. And yes. You can ask “Well, are everybody ok with this new idea formulated from two others ? Are you ok with the wording ?” 

Somebody can make a point that you can have the same effect with paperboard and white board pen. I don’t quite agree to this statement. And here is why: 

  1. Not all participants are present physically to the meetings
  2. It takes time for everybody to stand up, walk up to the board and write/change on it
  3. You can not ctrl+c / ctrl+v or move the text
  4. Finally, how often you go to the brainstorming meeting and you see that the paperboard pen doesn’t work
  5. And finally you need to think (ask somebody) to make a summary and send it by email to everybody

With collaborative work sharing, since the document is remotely accessible to everybody you don’t actually need to do the summary to send it by email. Instead, you can send the link to the document directly by e-mail or any other communication mean.

II. Changes tracking and collaborate comments integrated in the document

Since the document is prepared by many users and open for modifications during but also after the meeting it’s important to track changes after the meeting. If somebody decides to change wording or add something you want to see when and who changed it. The same solution that I’ve been using in the previous examples enables to track changes of all participants.

When after the meeting, we have a specific question to a specific person you can use comments functionality to ask a question visible to everybody and which notifies only the receipt of the question. 

In this way we can react to the modifications and show to everybody that something changed. 

And that would be all the functionalities which significantly improved my meetings effectiveness and helped me gain time.

Finally, to finish please find some other technologies which have some or all the functionalities mentioned in this article : Office 365 Word, Evernote, OneNote, Apple Notes.

BTW. This article can be applied to your work context (ex. Brainstorming about a project next steps) but also to friends, family organization meeting (ex. Preparing vacations or marriage events). 

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