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What to do when the vet keeps disrupting team meetings

Tips for veterinary practice managers to take control of their meetings

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A veterinary practice manager writes:

We try to hold weekly team meetings at our veterinary practice. They don’t always go ahead because some days just get really busy, but we’re pretty good at having them on a regular basis.

There are some team members who clearly look forward to them. They bring snacks for everyone, organize a team bonding activity and participate in all discussions. There are others who are indifferent, contribute only when directly asked for feedback, but do ensure they are there on time — they just take a backseat, which I guess is OK.

Then there is one vet, however, who makes holding a productive team meeting incredibly difficult for me.

He is always late to the meeting and comes in looking annoyed. He interrupts presentations (regardless of who is presenting), offers his opinion on every single subject and easily gets sidetracked with stories that aren’t even relevant to the discussion.

At the beginning of the meeting, we spend a few minutes on “housekeeping” items, which aren’t particularly interesting but need to be mentioned. Every single meeting he brings up a housekeeping item that is effectively him criticizing the team for doing something wrong. He just has a really negative attitude. He questions and criticizes almost all new ideas that I try to implement in the practice.

As a practice manager, it’s my job to ensure we have positive, productive team meetings. However, I’m not his supervisor so I’m really not sure how to address this.

Holding effective team meetings is not easy, and dealing diplomatically with disruptive team members like your vet is an art. There are a couple of things I would do to begin with, but keep in mind that this is not an easy fix. With time, you’ll get better and better at it, until you don’t even bat an eyelid when people like him try to interrupt your meeting.

Set Some Ground Rules at the Start of the Meeting

At the start of the meeting, remind everyone of “meeting rules:”

  1. “We’re going to start on time, so if you need to be late, please come in quietly and just take a seat.” Don’t wait for people who are late. I know this seems impossible in a veterinary clinic, but the chaotic nature of our day makes it even more important to follow this rule. Not starting on time only encourages people to show up whenever they feel like. A short side story: a practice manager I worked with used to make a point of starting her meetings at the scheduled time, so if she was the only person in the staff room at the time the meeting was due to start, she would still get the meeting started — on her own! Seems extreme, but I personally saw over 90 percent of her meetings start on time — with the entire team present! It’s about forming habits.
  2. End on time. Saying something like, “I know we all have a lot to do, so let’s keep this to the allocated 45 minutes,” will make it clear that you want to stick to the schedule and minimize interruptions just as much as your team does. (Well, most of them.)
  3. Have an agenda that everyone is aware of ahead of time. I know some practice managers who like to email this out to their team the day before the meeting, but most practices have an agenda everyone can add to in between the meetings. This can be as simple writing items for discussion on a whiteboard in a high-traffic area. Review it the day before the meeting, and anything you think is not suitable for a team discussion, address with the individual prior to the meeting.
  4. Remind your team of the agenda at the start of the meeting. For example, “We have 5 items on the agenda today, and Jo will be doing a 15-minute presentation on XYZ. At the end of the presentation, you’ll get 5 minutes to ask questions and for any further discussion, and then we’ll wrap up at 3 p.m.” 
You can use this technique to preempt the vet’s long list of housekeeping items if you feel they’re inappropriate and bringing the team down. Try saying, “I have 5 items housekeeping items here; thanks Sally, Sam and James for adding these to the agenda. If there is any other housekeeping, please put it on the agenda for the next meeting.”
  5. Ask that everyone be given the opportunity to speak. You could simply say to the group, “I want to ask you to not interrupt others while they’re talking; we want to make sure that everyone is given a chance to weigh in. Please keep this in mind if you’ve had a lot of air time lately, let’s give others a chance” 
Stay in control during the meeting: 
If you do the above before the meeting starts, it won’t come as a surprise to anyone when you back it up with the following during the meeting.
  6. If the vet arrives late, don’t let it interrupt your flow. Don’t backtrack to fill him in, don’t pay any attention to him at all. Honestly, arriving late to meetings with a negative attitude sounds to me like attention-seeking.
  7. If he interrupts a presentation, cut him off and say, “Let’s hold off on all comments and questions until Julie finishes the presentation.”
  8. If he is getting off topic or isn’t allowing anyone else to have the floor, interject with, “I’m going to cut you off there because we have a full agenda and I want to make sure we get through everything.” Alternatively, you can say, “Let’s take that offline and you and I can discuss after the meeting, to ensure we get through everything on the agenda today”

Meeting chairs do this all the time, so don’t think you are being rude at all. The really great facilitators do it seamlessly, so the majority of people in the meeting don’t even notice that the facilitator is dealing with a massive pain in the behind.

If All Else Fails…

If these techniques aren’t working, you will need to speak to the vet privately. You don’t need to address each of the items, but you could frame the discussion like this:

“ I wanted to talk to you about our practice meetings. I think they’re really important and I know the team is getting a lot of value out of them. There are some changes I would like to implement in the practice, and it’s important to me that I have your support. The team really respects you and looks up to you, so it would be great if I had your backing. What do I need to do to make that happen?”

You can see that I didn’t mention anything about him being disruptive during meetings — as a manager and meeting facilitator, it’s your job to deal with that. The big issue is his negative attitude and his tendency to shut down all your ideas, so you need to get to the bottom of that.


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