The Humble Note-Taker

or How to Write Notes and Influence Teams

Welcome to your first team meeting as the new PM. You're busy trying to learn what the team does and who everyone is. The team is discussing an important decision they need to make. What should you do?

  1. Do nothing. You don't have all the context, how could you contribute?

  2. Jump in with your ideas. You're a person of action and this is why they hired you.

  3. Offer to take notes. Ask a clarifying question. Post the notes after the meeting.

Doing nothing, while gentle, is ineffective. You don't make progress in building trust with your team or extend the understanding of the subject matter.

Jumping in with your ideas is plain obnoxious. You have no context. In your rush to "add value" you're showing everyone that you know barely anything.

Taking notes, asking the occasional clarifying question, perhaps suggesting a minor reframing, and posting the notes publicly — these are activities that simultaneously add value and improve your own understanding and knowledge.

Note-taking is historic record-keeping. Nobody will remember what they discussed or agreed upon, a few days after the meeting. What everyone will look at are the notes. If you have any doubts about this, try and think of your precise position on a meeting you were in, one week ago.

Note-taking is an incredibly powerful way to learn. People learn through writing. By taking notes, you force yourself to understand things and ask questions. In some cases, you find references to read through, deepening your knowledge. In other cases, the questions you have are the same questions everyone else has. Either way, your learning accelerates rapidly through taking notes.

Note-taking progresses rapidly to decision-making. You start by taking notes for your team. You post them publicly. Everyone is so grateful that you took on a menial and tedious task. Slowly, you develop the most in-depth knowledge of everything the team is doing. People start asking you for your opinion. At some point, they delegate the decision over to you, because you have the most knowledge and most up-to-date view.

Thanks to Shishir Mehrotra, for the original idea, years ago. Thanks to Jules Walter and DeVaris Brown for proof-reading and feedback.