We often attend collaborative meetings where teams need
to make decisions. People share ideas, voice opinions,
raise objections, identify risks, consider options... and
rarely capture anything in writing.
When you express a thought in a meeting, do your words
sometimes get ignored, or later, forgotten? When someone
speaks passionately about an idea, do they sometimes
silence other people from speaking about theirs? If
another person is talking to you and your mind is already
preparing a counterargument, haven't you missed out on
parts of their idea?
I (Gil) often sit in meetings as the coach. For the first
few minutes other people are speaking, so I observe and
listen. And too often, I can just see good ideas and
contributions evaporate into thin air. So when I hear
someone make a valuable statement, I'll grab a marker, go
the whiteboard and say, “Hold on, let me capture that.” I
add one more thing that came up before. Then I say,
“There was something else before that...” and look at the
attendees in anticipation.
At that point, the energy in the room changes. People
bring back some ideas. Usually, someone will have a whole
list of good things to add, so I just give them another
marker and say, “Come here, write that down.”
This is a turning point in the meeting. The participants
now have a common visual anchor that's not the table they
sit around. Their energy is higher; more people talk.
They feel good because their input is recognized. If I
hear vague ideas (such as, “we should communicate more!”)
or vague references (“management”) we still write them
down, and then expand on them.
There's very little art or science to capturing. Use a
whiteboard, a flipchart, sticky notes, or type in a Word
document and project it. Make it simple, not pretty. Just
listen and write legibly and in BIG LETTERS so everyone
can read. Don't paraphrase anything, so the attendees
still own their contributions (rather than you, the
person who wrote them down). You capture input uniformly,
regardless of who spoke or how fervently they spoke. If
the input is long-winded, ask, “Could you just give me
the headline on that?”
There is one important caveat, though: don't judge what
you write. You can still be a contributing participant,
just don't abuse “the power of the pen” by colouring the
words with your approval or disapproval.
So far, we've looked at the value of visibly collecting
contributions and opinions. There's greater value in the
next step: manipulating that data. Draw circles and
arrows, or underline with colours. Take votes and decide
collaboratively which ideas survive. Look for trends,
patterns, clusters, similarities, and exceptions.
Evaluate them in light of the question you came together
If you're familiar with the concept of meeting minutes,
this is not it. Capturing, or “scribing,” is meant to
make the meeting effective and collaborative.
Nevertheless, the captured information can be good
material to base minutes on.
Try this in your next meeting. Set a timer for five
minutes. The timer's expired and still no word has been
captured? Just pick up a marker and head to the
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