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Writing minutes

Discovering a mistake in the meeting minutes

You’ve discovered a mistake in a circulated copy of minutes from a meeting. Should you raise the issue, and if so how?

First off there is a different etiquette depending on your point of view and the severity of the issue.

If you were not at the meeting

If you weren’t at the meeting then you don’t really have any right to challenge the minutes. If you spot an issue you’ll need to get a colleague, who was there,  to raise it.

If you were at the meeting

You should only highlight mistakes that are significantly different in meaning – small typos, even in the spelling of your name, can easily be corrected prior to the next meeting with a quiet word to the minutes secretary who will usually thank you for correcting them.

However there are more serious mistakes that you might pick up on:

  • A significant decision has been left out
  • A significant decision has been reversed
  • A decision has been added that was never made at the time of the meeting.

These are all mistakes worth challenging. The essential framework of a meeting is that a group of specific people get together at a specific time and make specific decisions. These decisions are recorded in the minutes which are a shared “single point of record” for what occurred.  If the decisions recorded in the minutes are not those that were made at the meeting, then the minutes are inaccurate and need to be fixed.

How to challenge mistakes in the minutes

If the minutes have already been passed (or ratified) at the next meeting then you are too late. You only have the window between the minutes being circulated and the chair of the next meeting approving the minutes (usually the first item on the agenda) in which to complain.

So, who do you speak to?

You need to use your judgement as to who to contact. If you think it is a simple error then you can contact the minutes secretary and ask them to fix the offending item (usually they will only be too happy as it shows someone has taken the time to read their minutes!).

If you believe the minutes have been altered intentionally then you should bring it up with the chair directly. You should clearly communicate your concerns, using the specific example to back it up.

In 99% of cases this will result in the new copy of the minutes being circulated fairly promptly.

You should only complain about the minutes publically, i.e. at the beginning of the next meeting, if you have tried to speak to the secretary and chair in advance and they have failed to make the fix you wanted.
To do otherwise you run the risk of embarassing the minutes secretary or chair unnecessarily.


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