People complain about staff meetings but you can’t run a business without them. Here are five tips to help you ensure that your team powwows are time well spent. By Meg Crawford
We’ve all experienced it before: when meetings are good, they’re very, very good but when they’re bad, they’re horrid. However, with some careful planning and appropriate review, staff meetings can be the cornerstone of a well-run practice. Indeed, the Australian Veterinary Association’s president, Dr Paula Parker, doesn’t see any call for dispensing with staff meetings just yet. In her view, one of their key benefits lies in their unique capacity to clarify expectations. “I think—although it’s probably true of all workplaces, but certainly true in vet practices—that conflict in the team often comes down to miscommunication or having unclear expectations,” she says. “Clarifying those expectations is fundamental to getting a team communicating well and functioning together, and staff meetings pose the perfect opportunity to do it.”
With that in mind, Dr Parker shares some of her key tips for running more efficient meetings.
1. Be clear about roles and purpose
If people aren’t clear about the purpose of a meeting and the role of attendees, confusion and dissension are almost inevitable. Dr Parker suggests practices consider both issues well in advance of meetings. For instance, determine and make sure people understand whether the team has a role in decision-making, or whether you are simply looking for feedback. “That’s important because if the team thinks that decision-making is by consensus, but that’s not the case, staff will become disengaged,” Dr Parker observes.
2. Consider whether a meeting is the best way to tackle an issue
It’s not uncommon for people to complain, sometimes validly, that a meeting was a waste of time on the basis that it wasn’t strictly necessary for them to attend. Accordingly, it’s wise prior to a meeting to think carefully about who needs to attend, as well as the objective of the meeting. For instance, if the aim is to convey information, consider whether a meeting is the best place to do that. Would it make for a more efficient use of staff time to disseminate the material first, and provide a forum for asking questions or providing feedback later?
3. Prepare staff so that their input is valuable
Commonly, meetings in a veterinary practice fall into two categories. First, there’s the lean, generally quick meeting to discuss that day’s activities or what’s planned for the week, in which case a schedule will generally suffice in terms of the information required to enable staff to participate.
The second type of meeting is where the team is brought together for the purpose of considering the practice’s plans, including direction, resourcing and skill development or requirements. “It’s really important to have information prepared for those second types of meetings,” Dr Parker explains. “Everyone takes in information in a different way and everybody is busy, so you don’t want to give them a ridiculous pack of information that’s too much. But at the same time—to make the best use of everyone’s time—you need people to come informed to the meeting.”
4. Be clear about your expectations for conduct
From time to time, things get heated in staff meetings. That’s why it is important to clarify from the outset how you expect people to behave in a meeting. This sets a benchmark that encourages good behaviour, as well as provides a yardstick against which you can judge if disciplinary action needs to be taken later.
“If you make those expectations clear, we can hold ourselves and each other accountable—we can say, ‘Hey, this is how we agreed that we would behave, and we’re not behaving in that way’,” explains Dr Parker.
She also encourages practices to run meetings more formally, especially when serious issues need to be addressed. This might entail, for instance, appointing someone to chair the meeting, having an agenda, asking that participants raise their hand before contributing, and taking minutes. “It helps people to put themselves into the mode of, ‘Okay, we aren’t joking around here’. It’s also useful where everyone in a practice are friends, and have such good relationships that they sometimes slip into a mode where things get heated because they forget they’re at work.”
5. Don’t use staff meetings to manage performance
If an individual has a performance management issue, good human resource practice dictates that it be dealt with outside of staff meetings. “This is critical for a leadership team. You can’t use meetings to shame people,” Dr Parker stresses.
“If there’s a problem with a person, you must deal with it in a format that’s outside of the whole team meeting. Never shame or embarrass someone in the meeting. There may be a time where you need to circle back to the whole team about the issue, but it’s doing that only after you’ve had those discussions with those people, and there’s a resolution or a plan in place.”
Likewise, if there’s conflict between two people, that needs to be dealt with outside of broader staff meetings.
Bring to order
Chairing a meeting? Dr Parker offers these pointers…
• Know who is attending.
• Make sure everyone has the relevant material and is properly prepared in order to participate.
• Conduct the meeting in an appropriate space, which includes setting it up in a place where you can see all attendees and, ideally, they can see each other.
• Stop people from having ‘side conversations’.
• Make sure you are mentally prepared and clear yourself of distractions.
• Have everyone put away their phones.
• Get input from everyone at the table, especially introverted attendees, and don’t let more vocal staff members commandeer the meeting.
• Have a strategy for obtaining input from people who think aloud; e.g. ask them for some initial comments then say that you’ll come back to them.
• It may be necessary to make some opening comments. However, it’s sometimes preferable to hear from other staff members about an issue first. When the leadership team speaks first, it can discourage attendees from speaking out if they have a different view.
• Have breaks during long meetings.
• Ask people questions throughout. This discourages attendees from tuning out.
• Be mindful of timing—make sure that you are not scheduling meetings at inconvenient times, at peak busy times, or when staff are likely to be less attentive, such as just after lunch.
• After the close of the meeting, reflect on what worked and what could be improved, and attend to next steps promptly, including distribution of minutes.