For employees in most practices, staff meetings rank somewhere between office politics and learning to use a new ophthalmic EMR in terms of productivity and enjoyment. But they can also be an indispensible team-building tool, Joy Gibb, ABOC told attendees of 2016’s Vision Expo East. How can you break the cycle of long, boring staff meetings where nothing gets accomplished? Follow these best practices to make sure your next staff meeting is worthwhile—not a waste of time.
Time is your most important resource—it’s imperative to use it wisely, and preparation is the key to doing that, says Gibb. Before you put any meeting on the schedule, ask yourself two questions:
- What is the purpose for this meeting? Meetings must offer value to those attending, so tailor them to the needs of your practice and team. If there are certain actions you want your staff to take as a result of the meeting, identify those actions.
- Is this meeting really necessary? Once you’ve identified the desired objectives, make sure that a meeting really is the best way to accomplish them. For example, a simple announcement that requires no discussion could simply be made via a group email.
Tip: Research shows that meeting productivity decreases as the number of participants increases. If you have a larger practice, try breaking down staff meetings into departments.
When every minute counts, it can be difficult to set aside time for what some staff members feel is a non revenue-generating activity. After all, why should you give up chair time or lane time (or even your lunch time) for what all too often turns into a disappointing gripe session? Mornings are usually the best time for staff meetings, Gibb finds. Staff won’t be enthusiastic about meetings if they have to arrive early or stay late, and appointments that run behind schedule can impact after-work meetings.
Consider scheduling your first patient one hour later to accommodate a regular weekly or monthly meeting schedule, Gibb recommends. Yes, you will initially lose the revenue from that chair time—but you’ll quickly make up for it with better staff skills and communication, which mean better care and customer service for your patients, she adds. Also, make sure the meeting ends 15 minutes before clinic time. Staff need time to decompress and get their “patient faces” on.
Stick to the Agenda
Meetings tend to balloon to fill the time they’re allotted, and then some. To keep a meeting well within its intended scope, create a written, detailed agenda and make it available to all attendees at least 24 hours before the meeting. This gives staff members (especially introverts and those who are reluctant to speak up) time to assess meeting topics and devise suggestions and input. Train your staff to bring you solutions as well as problems. Implement a one-to one rule: If someone wants to voice a problem, they should also offer at least one solution.
Prioritize the agenda by identifying the objectives that absolutely have to be accomplished—address those at the beginning of the meeting so that there’s adequate time for discussion and decision-making, Gibb advises. If you don’t get to every time on the agenda within the time allotted, carry over the remaining items to the next meeting. Better yet, consider limiting the action items of each meeting to a manageable number, like 3.
The Meeting Moderator
The moderator’s job is to keep the meeting on track, encourage contributions, and prevent chaos resulting from competing points of view or strong opinions. Two obvious choices are the doctor or the practice manager. But if neither of those choices seems optimal—if, say, they are people-pleasers who are loath to speak up—don’t be afraid to look at a less-obvious choice. Either way, a moderator must be able to do these important (and sometimes uncomfortable) things:
- Ensure only one person speaks at a time.
- Prevent any one person from monopolizing the conversation.
- Politely but firmly interrupt people who repeat what’s already been discussed.
- Hold people accountable for staying on-topic. Gibb recommends using a phrase like “This is interesting, but can you help me understand how it relates to the agenda item we’re discussing?”
Meetings require focus and brain power. But neurological research indicates that we have a limited amount of these ‘cognitive resources’—once they get depleted, the quality of our decision-making drops. The lesson? Keep meetings to a manageable length (an agenda and moderator will help you do that). Shorter, more frequent meetings will give you better output than rare, marathon sessions.
Step Up Your Staff Meetings
- Don’t let latecomers delay your agenda, Gibb says. If you want to end on time, you’ll need to start on time, so if someone arrives late, Gibb recommends saying “Sorry you couldn’t join us. If you meet me in my office for a few minutes after work, I can review what you missed.”
- When broaching a problem area, try to back up your observations with hard data whenever possible. Staff will be more receptive if you can prove your point with numbers. No one wants to feel like they’re being called down to the principal’s office, Gibb notes. If you have numbers handy, staff will see you as an objective observer, rather than just someone who thinks they’re slow and lazy.
- The best meetings are ‘safe zones’ for ideas, Gibb notes. Encourage everyone to share ideas and let your employees shine. Watch out for longer-term staffers trashing potentially good ideas with responses like “we did that 10 years ago and it didn’t work.” Also, look out for what Joe Quitoni, The Ritz-Carlton’s corporate director of culture transformation, calls CAVE employees—those that are Constantly Against Virtually Everything.
- Tell attendees not to bring their phones. You’ll increase focus on the task at hand, and you’ll also discourage digital trash talk about participants.
Never leave a meeting without an action plan, Gibb warns. You want to make sure that the meeting motivates staff to perform better. Failing to clarify ‘next steps’ sets a tone that nothing really important happened. If a meeting is important enough to have, it’s important enough to follow up on, she adds. Be sure staff leaves knowing three things:
- Who is responsible for what
- Relevant goals and deadlines
- To whom they should report progress
And what if a scheduled meeting runs shorter than you’ve planned? Just do what you need to do and give everyone the extra time to socialize.