Explainers

Who Writes Things Down in Your Organization (and Why It Matters)

Taking notes during meetings is a critical and often unappreciated role. Evaluate how your team decides who to take notes to run more equitable and effective meetings.

Study after study shows that you remember things better when you write them down. At work, writing things down can make the implicit, explicit. It can reduce the reliance on everyone needing to be in the room together. And it supports vital cultural experiences like onboarding, exiting, and learning and development.

At NOBL, we often audit meetings at a wide range of organizations. But every organization has one thing in common: they are full of invisible rules and assumptions about who writes things down, who should write things down, who actually writes things down, and whose voice ultimately decides. 

Whether you realize it or not, your actions and assumptions in meetings influence several key dynamics beyond the meeting itself, including:

  • Productivity. How the work gets done and how decisions are made.
  • Accountability and hierarchy at the individual and team level. How we’re held responsible for our work and how we define responsibilities across various levels.
  • Knowledge management. How we distribute the information in a consistent way.
  • Power. How we determine control and authority.

When it comes to writing things down in meetings, here are three common scenarios we see.

1. Battle till the death

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2. Outright refusal

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3. Automatically delegated to the youngest woman in the room

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Do any of these sound familiar? Ask yourself:

  • What is my relationship with writing things down?
  • How does my team capture actions and decisions? 
  • What is our team’s relationship with follow up and accountability? 
  • What is my relationship with follow up and accountability? 
  • Do I treat all my team members as equal contributors?

Our actions and assumptions in meetings matter. If we don’t pay attention to who does what, and in what context, we put our team’s success at risk. When notes aren’t taken because people play hot-potato with note-taking responsibilities, the next steps are unclear, and it requires more time and effort to recall what needs to be done. When certain team members are consistently put into the note-taking role, we lose out on their perspectives and contributions beyond the “note taker” archetype.

When we don’t think about our position(s) of power in a group setting, we inadvertently prevent the equality of voices and psychological safety being established. 

How to establish more equitable note taking

  • Rotate note taker and facilitator roles. If you use a template agenda or an Eisenhower matrix, it makes it easy for anyone to jump in. 
  • Define or redefine what it means to take notes. Align with your team on what information is important to document.
  • Lead by example. If you’re in a position of power, volunteer to take notes regularly.
Published December 10, 2019