We have all been in those meetings that drone on and on, with 90% of the topics discussed feeling irrelevant to your role and a waste of time. Half the team dominating and the other half doodling and thinking about what to have for lunch. Where the meeting has become the place to dump problems for other people to solve, and with team members whining and moaning.
The practice owner can find themselves in the hot seat fending off requests and problems. Or a business owner tired of trying to be motivational and sympathetic when all they see is a face of blank faces wanting them to perform.
Do you remember Jackie Weaver? The Chief Officer from the Cheshire Association of Local Councils who found herself a Zoom sensation after her handling of the Handforth parish council meeting. Her calm banishment of troublesome and shouty men was required, after a meeting descended into chaos with people hurling insults and aggression. Whilst she handled this with great humour, it highlights how quickly meetings can spiral out of control or become a pointless waste of time.
Or maybe you have no team meetings. Your practice is more a collection of individuals all bumbling along reacting to every situation as it happens. No one really has a clue what is happening or there is an attitude of ‘that's not my role’ creeping in. Where the lack of communication leaves people feeling out of the loop or frustrated. Where the business owner feels like they are repeating themselves over and over again, wasting time having multiple conversations on the same topic.
It definitely doesn't have to be this way.
The purpose of an effective team meeting is to bring everyone together in the operational processes of the business. They should enhance collaboration within the team. They should provide an opportunity to communicate new ideas, projects and solve challenges together. Effective meetings provide clarity on the current operational processes of the business while designing and creating the future.
They allow the team to learn and improve from the past; they allow each team member to contribute and share in the running of the business. They create a powerful outcome for the week/month to come with clear accountability and actions. They should be organised, scheduled, a requirement for all team members to attend and a safe space for everyone to contribute and collaborate.
There are three main types of meetings:
The Brief: Taken from my time in the hospitality industry, this was a short, focused meeting dealing only with the day ahead or immediate issues that needed actioning. It was for all departments to come together and be ready to operate with ease.
The Operational: Typically held weekly/monthly, this is designed to review the period since the last meeting and look forward to the coming period. It focuses on what's working or what's not working, highlights training issues, creates celebration points and is pivotal in team communication.
The Blue Sky: Typically, quarterly or less. This is the bigger picture meeting and is usually reserved for the leadership team. It looks at the needs of the business, the overall mission and the overall success of the business. It is a space to challenge the status quo and dream big.
My top 10 tips work for all types of meetings.
Personally, I would also suggest before you plan your meeting structure, it's worth spending a little time together creating your meeting etiquette. It is important to know in advance how you expect people to behave, what mindset, equipment or attitude are you expecting them to bring. Ensure that everyone avoids finger-pointing and the blame game by focusing on the team elements. Stay solution-focused. We don’t want to require Jackie Weaver to attend!
Top 10 Tips for Effective Meetings
Be prepared - That old scouting motto might seem cliche, but being prepared makes a difference. Ensure that each member of the team knows what they need to bring i.e. pen and notepad - it sounds simple but will prevent people from leaving to go and get things or forgetting what they were responsible for. Let them know how to raise agenda points in advance and give plenty of notice if they will be responsible for contributing, no one likes to be put on the spot. Where necessary ensure that they are supported. For example, remember not everyone is comfortable with speaking in groups or interpreting stats, so support and coach where necessary. Checking your previous actions points will be at the top of the agenda, so ensure team members know that they will be reporting back to the rest of the team on any matter that was assigned to them.
Start on time - No matter which team member is running late, be respectful of each other. It's so easy to start late, rush items or miss items because we need to finish on time, particularly if people will have to leave or the next shift is about to start. People running consistently late for the meeting is a different challenge though. Review the activities they are doing before the meeting and if necessary, adjust the start time or add in buffer time. Honor the schedule and where possible avoid rescheduling, especially due to specific team members not being present. With the right systems and expectations, they will be able to catch up on what they have missed. And just as important is to finish on time. Don’t make it last an hour just for the sake of it, wrap up if you're done and get cracking.
Keep it relevant to everyone - Team meetings are just that; they are meetings for the whole team. If you need to have a conversation with one member of the team in more detail, arrange to have this at another time and make this meeting an action point. This works particularly well if people are prone to going off track or a topic needs detailed attention from only a couple of team members. They can report the results of that discussion at the next meeting.
Make minutes meaningful - When I go into clinics, I often find folders full of old minutes stuffed into cupboards. These are time-consuming to type and never see the light of day anyway so pretty pointless. Document any key changes agreed, statistics and action points, but leave the lengthy he said, she said conversational points out. When? What? Who? for actions is usually sufficient and will make it super easy to follow up with at the next meeting.
Separate meetings from training - This is essential. Having observed many meetings, particularly in the healthcare industry, I see them getting merged all the time. When someone asks for help or the practice owners see somewhere the team could improve, there is a tendency to deal with it then and there. It doesn't seem to matter if mentally we were checked into the middle of a different topic or if we only have two minutes to deal with the issue. If a training need is raised in a meeting, then a quick "let me show you how" verbal dump and run is not sufficient. Personally, I think it's one of the greatest causes of confusion, inferiority complex and lack of implementation. It's important to separate the meeting from the training. Training or coaching focuses on exploring, understanding the subject and its purpose, the operational aspects and integration between other team members and customers. It has its own reference documents and is practiced and sometimes maybe of embarrassment to the team member if they don't know how. If it can be done at the end of the meeting, then by all means do it then, but give it the attention it deserves. Stay focused! In a meeting we are looking at proactively moving the business forward, communicating with the different departments, reviewing measurable performance and creating collaboration on how to overcome challenges.
Resist the urge to take action in the meeting - You may think logging on to a computer and quickly solving an issue is helpful and will only take a minute (trust me it never only takes a minute!) It might help you to cross it off your list but in reality, you are holding up the meeting or worse not giving respect to the rest of the meeting as you sit there typing away.
Be present - Not just physically. Clear any distractions; for example, lock the door, put the phone onto the answering machine, close laptops. Distractions lead to the need for information to be repeated and interrupt the flow of ideas. It's just rude.
Allow action time after the meeting - If you have a 45-minute meeting, simply book an hour out of your diary. During this extra time, you will be able to complete those quick tasks, catch up with individuals you need to speak to further or use the time to plan where and how you will complete your other action points. Sounds simple and it is and solves the challenges raised in points 4, 5 and 6.
Have an agenda - This will provide structure and focus to the meeting. It is also a great way to run on time. Allocate the topics on the agenda to different departments or team members, Mix it up on different weeks if you want to. For example, at the beginning of our meetings, we would start with a short point of inspiration. It could be a poem, a testimonial, a YouTube clip, a fun activity the list is endless. They are all free and quick to find. It did more than just get the meeting started, it allowed each member of the team to find something that spoke to them personally. Typically, meetings naturally favour the leader personality types that want to get stuff done and the analytical types that are all about the data. This activity allowed the introverts, the creatives and the newer team members to shine. A simple meeting record sheet will provide a record of topics/actions and provide a key resource to increase implementation and prevent lengthy minutes that no one ever reads. Then move on to the important stuff. Practice timing each section so you know accurately how long to allow for the meeting. We would also always end with a moment of gratitude, thanking team members for specific issues or testimonials. Everyone should leave with a smile.
Involve everyone - This is a time for people to come together, share ideas, review and contribute. Each department brings different information. Ask questions of the quieter team members. Allow for thinking time and be comfortable with asking for ideas by the next meeting. When presenting data, explore the information. So often this is just an up or down - we're doing well or we're not doing well conversation. Boring! Dig deeper, what was happening to account for this result? What does this mean if it continues in this trend? What impact have we made?
Implementing a team meeting doesn't have to be hard work and can make a significant positive impact on everyone.