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Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Take the minutes - and gain power

Why does nobody ever want to take the minutes at the team meeting? Don't people realise that they are passing up an opportunity to gain a small measure of political power in their organisation? In managing your career the detail is important. Every little helps.

In her superb article
Power Failure in Management Circuits, the world-renowned business and management author R. M. Kanter (1979) outlines the key factors in accruing power in an organisation. (This is one of my favourite business texts and anybody wishing to succeed in business or their career should read it until it is memorised).

Kanter lists three 'lines' - main 'organisational sources of power'. The second of these is 'lines of information' meaning that, 'to be effective, managers need to be "in the know"...' Power is also derived from having 'relatively close contact with sponsors (higher-level people who confer approval...) 'Publicity about job activities', 'contact with senior officials' and 'participation in... meetings' are also factors in accruing power.

It is important to note that the small measure of power derived from taking the minutes represents Mary Parker Follett's 'power-with' rather than 'power-over' the people concerned. It is collaborative rather than coercive, and it is subtle and must not be abused or your reputation will be seriously damaged.

But being the person who writes the minutes of a meeting - especially meetings involving top-level management - meets all the power criteria listed above. In this context they are not likely to represent sources of overwhelming power. But utilised carefully, subtly - and legitimately, as well as helpfully - they could help build your position of power within the organisation.

If you are responsible for producing and distributing the minutes of the meeting then you have a small margin of discretion over an important 'line' of information. You wouldn't want to withhold the minutes from somebody, or misrepresent the content of the meeting since that would be unhelpful, unethical and damaging to you. But it might be appropriate, if there is due cause, to discuss an aspect of the minutes - and perhaps your suggestions and ideas - with a legitimate (especially a powerful) recipient, or other stakeholder, before the minutes are distributed to everybody else. Or you could ensure your team, or your pet project is represented with prominence, or in a favourable light. For example a senior person at the meeting may have made a complimentary comment that you could include - if it is in context and not beyond the scope of the minutes.

Do a good job and get recognised for it. Taking the minutes, faithfully and with appropriate detail, writing them up swiftly and thoughtfully and distributing them promptly is helpful to everybody concerned. It is one small tool, one of many, that you can use to ensure you are working effectively and that your efforts are noticed.

There are many other ideas that are of use if you want to succeed in work and business. Some are new ideas, such as the latest concepts in digital marketing. Others, such as the works of eminent authors including Kotter, Porter, Pfeffer, Mintzberg and Kanter are very well known and I recognise that I stand upon the shoulders of giants. Every manager and aspiring manager should familiarise themselves with the works of these thought-leaders.

In this blog I will be sharing many such ideas - with my own thoughts on their significance or how to apply them in a practical setting. I welcome your thoughtful comments.

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