Staff meetings can be one of the most effective resources in the practice management toolbox — acting as a conduit for problem-solving, generating ideas, building morale, promoting teamwork, increasing productivity, and boosting profitability. Unfortunately, many staff meetings fall short of these practice-building goals.
One of the questions I've asked at hundreds of seminars is "What do you (honestly) think of staff meetings held in your office?" I ask staff members (not doctors) to respond anonymously on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = useful and productive; 5 = a waste of time). The average response? A disappointing 3.7. That number, if it's representative, leaves a lot of room for improvement.
If you or your staff have become discouraged about staff meetings, consider the following tested tips gleaned from high-performance practices throughout the country.
• Ask your staff what they consider the best time for a meeting and pay them if it's not during regular office hours. Asking staff members to stay late or come in early is a common complaint and not conducive to getting their best thinking. If lunch time is selected, make it your treat. You'll see the difference this one change will make in people's attitudes.
• Rotate the leadership of meetings among everyone in the practice — on a volunteer basis. It's great for team building.
• Give advance notice of both the date and the agenda for staff meetings rather than catch people off-guard and unprepared. Dr. Jennifer Jellison in Columbus, Ohio hangs a tablet in the staff lounge where everyone can suggest meeting topics. On the day of the meeting, the person who listed the topic presents it for group discussion. The meeting leader then moves discussion from one topic to the next and is responsible for starting and stopping the meeting on time.
• If you're the leader, spend more time listening — than talking.
• Stick to the agenda. If a real give-and-take discussion is the goal, the meeting leader should make short statements, not speeches. Pass over minor points. Encourage participation. Avoid negativity. At staff meetings held by Dr. Jan Wolf in Kenosha, Wis., participants use "clickers" to signal someone who is being unnecessarily negative, long-winded, or otherwise out of order. It keeps the discussion positive and on target.
• Use staff meetings as a forum for discussing issues that affect everyone's work and effectiveness. Brainstorm for ways to improve collections, save time, reduce no-shows, improve office decor, and exceed patients' expectations.
• Focus on a positive approach. There's a world of difference between "How can we work better as team?" and "Why is there so much friction and backstabbing in our office?"
• Find time at staff meetings to praise each other for a job well done or to recognize the "little things" that are noticed but never mentioned. It will lift everyone's spirits.
• It's worth repeating: Do not allow staff meetings to become gripe sessions. Emotions can run high if participants feel their ideas, personality, or on-the-job performance are under attack. If a staff meeting suddenly takes a turn for the worse, explain that complaints about office policies are welcome but that interpersonal conflicts are off limits. Staff meetings should be for practice problems not people problems.
• Don't allow arguments of any kind. Discuss yes — argue, never.
• Always conclude meetings with one or more decisions. Don't leave everyone wondering: what did we decide? Where do we go next? Make sure a plan of action is spelled out along with a schedule of implementation.
Bob Levoy is the author of seven books and hundreds of articles on human resource and practice management topics. His newest book is “222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices” published by Jones & Bartlett. He can be reached at [email protected]