Are your staff meetings a PITA?

Next time you plan a meeting, make sure it is a PITA for all parties involved and they will be much more likely to come back at the next opportunity!

To make meetings successful, start on time, stick to an agenda, and invite only those who are actually relevant to the discussion at hand. Photo courtesy FatCamera /E+ / Getty Images
To make meetings successful, start on time, stick to an agenda, and invite only those who are actually relevant to the discussion at hand.

Staff meetings are often considered a waste of time. Sometimes, they are even dreaded. Well, except for the free food.

Believe it or not, the ideal meeting should be a PITA, or rather, should follow these initials.

P—Present

All attendees should arrive on time. If the leader of the meeting isn’t convinced starting on time is important, why should your team?

Block out time in your schedule to ensure the meeting will actually take place, and start on time. Block off the last appointment slot to avoid the all-too-common, “Dr. Smith is wrapping up the last appointment—along with Jack and Jill—they’ll be here in 10 minutes.”

All attendees should be physically and mentally present. Eliminate distractions. A meeting is not the time to catch up on email or check the number of “likes” on your latest Facebook post. Cell phones should be put away (i.e. not in people’s pockets, and not under the table) during the meeting.

On that note, a meeting is also not the time to catch up on medical records.

And by the way, not every single team member needs to be present at every meeting. Only those who have a reason to be there should be invited. And they should show up with a smile, a pen and paper, and a sense of purpose.

The more present you are at a meeting, the more you will get out of it.

I—Intention

Meetings should not exist for meetings sake, just because it’s what’s always been done at your practice. There has to be a clear intention, a stated reason. Why are you actually hosting a meeting? What are your goals?

It is training? Teaching? Brainstorming? Gathering or sharing information? Feedback?

Encourage all of those who are present to participate. The leader should make a point of gently nurturing the most introverted team members to chime in. If some team members are too shy to participate verbally, consider asking them to put their thoughts on paper.

If a topic only pertains to a few people present, then a staff-wide meeting is not the right time and place to discuss it. Set up a smaller meeting, or even better, take care of that item via email or via a conference phone or video call.

T—Time

Meetings are expensive. Most worry about the cost of a few sandwiches or pizzas and fizzy liquid calories. Yet, by far, the biggest expense is the cost of the humans on the clock. So the shorter and most efficient the meeting, the cheaper it is. Beyond the cost factor, short meetings are simply more productive and engaging than never-ending ones.

The organizer should determine the duration required for the meeting. When does it start? (Hint: it must start on time.) When does it stop?

Experience shows that without an agenda, a duration, and a timeline, meetings can seem endless (and pointless). The most extraverted people have a tendency to “take the stage” and go on massive tangents.

How long should a meeting last? They are often set up for an hour, but who said that’s the right duration? Why not 45 minutes? Or 30? Or 15?

The duration should be a function of what needs to be discussed, not based on an arbitrary round or convenient number.

Alternatively, you can decrease the frequency of meetings. If weekly meetings seem a bit too much, or if they lack effectiveness, try meeting every other week and see what happens.

Here is an example of a meeting cadence and who should attend:

  • Every six months—Practice retreat: owners and managers,
  • Bimonthly—Management team meetings: managers only
  • Monthly—Practice-wide staff meeting: all employees
  • Monthly—Department staff meetings: all employees in a department
  • Daily—Morning huddle (see “Morning huddles: Little effort, max results” by Phil Zeltzman, VPN, October, 2018).

A—Agenda

You absolutely should follow an agenda. Meetings without an agenda are notoriously unproductive. If an item is not on the agenda, it should not be discussed. It can be added to the next meeting’s agenda.

Ideally, the agenda should be shared by leaders and managers to foster participation from all of those who will attend the meeting.

The agenda should follow a certain cadence, such as:

  • Good news, thank you notes from clients, new employees, birthdays, anniversaries, events (e.g. a new certification or degree), shout-outs, relevant news, new positions and happy reviews
    in social media.
  • Updates since the last meeting. What good came out of it?
  • Parts one, two, and three of the meeting.
  • Key takeaways from the meeting.
  • Action items? Who is responsible for what and by when?

Ideally, someone would summarize meeting minutes in writing, which should be shared with all attendees and, if needed, non-attendees as well. A copy is then stored in a dedicated binder.

Next time you plan a meeting, make sure it is a PITA for all parties involved, and they will be much more likely to come back at the next opportunity!

Phil Zeltzman, DVM, DACVS, CVJ, Fear Free Certified, is a board-certified veterinary surgeon and serial entrepreneur whose traveling surgery practice takes him all over Eastern Pennsylvania and Western New Jersey. He also is cofounder of Veterinary Financial Summit, an online community and conference dedicated to personal and practice finance (www.VetFinancialSummit.com).

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