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Seven Ways to Transform Unproductive Meetings


Physicians don't appreciate being taken away from their work to attend sessions that provide no value. Here are seven steps to avoid such meetings.

When medical practice meeting attendees don't know why they're there or what is expected of them, they can quickly become frustrated and inattentive. And if leadership hasn't planned in advance or established clear protocols, well-intentioned gatherings can go south in no time. Here is a seven-step strategy for revolutionizing the efficiency of your meetings.

1. Start with a clear purpose.

Effective meetings begin with well-defined goals. Declare the purpose of the meeting in the invitation so people understand in advance what topics will be discussed. Not only will this keep the meeting on track, it will enable participants to come prepared with questions and reports, which will ultimately save time. If you're ever unsure about why you've been invited to attend a meeting, contact the planner for clarification.

2. Include the right people.

It's common for meeting organizers to routinely ask the same people to attend a variety of meetings. From now on, be mindful of who you are including in your invitations. Ask yourself if and why each invitee needs to be there, and then cull the list so it includes only necessary participants. You may also consider having some people attend just the portion of a meeting that requires their attention or input. Not every person needs to be present for every minute of every meeting. As an attendee, check with the chairperson to see if it's acceptable for you to come or go according to the agenda.

3. Select the best place.

The location and layout of a room is vital to the success of a meeting. If people are uncomfortable - whether because they're feeling cold, crammed, or conspicuous - your meeting will lose its effectiveness. Choose a right-sized venue that has the necessary privacy, equipment, setup, and accessibility for the group. When planning an off-site meeting, inform participants about transportation and parking options (you'll stand a better chance of people showing up on time if they have this information at their fingertips). Once the group is gathered, remember to address standard housekeeping details, such as mentioning the location of restrooms and emergency exits.

4. Develop a viable program.

A realistic agenda - which should be distributed in advance - is at the heart of every productive meeting. Scheduling too many items in an inadequate amount of time shows a lack of respect, not only for participants, but for the matters to be discussed, as well. For efficiency, try to stick with an agenda containing no more than three topics. Once you exceed that number of items you run the risk of losing the attention of the group, especially if the one of the issues is controversial. If you expect a lengthy discussion or heated debate about a subject, it may be best to schedule a separate meeting to focus only on that.

5. Prepare in advance.

Whether you're chairing a meeting or attending one, you have a responsibility to be well prepared and ready to participate. This takes time and planning. An organized chairperson will inform other key players of any expectations that are required of them. No matter what your role at the meeting is, always read the agenda and educate yourself on the topics of discussion before you walk through the door. If you are asked to present a report, do your research and have written notes to refer to so you don't forget vital information.

6. Make punctuality a priority.

It is imperative to honor people's schedules by starting meetings promptly. Far too much time is wasted on waiting for people who are late. Collectively, that wasted time costs a lot of money. But starting on time is easier said than done, especially in the unpredictable profession of medicine. If the beginning of a meeting is delayed for some reason, it still needs to end on time. To accomplish that you will either need to adjust the agenda or minimize the discussion. If you're the person who's late, quietly walk in, sit down, and listen up to avoid disrupting the meeting any further.

7. Perform a postmortem.

Every meeting needs to end with a detailed recap. Allow ample time at the conclusion of the agenda to summarize key points, review expectations, assign tasks, schedule future get-togethers, and answer any questions. Then follow up by promptly distributing meting minutes to participants.

Meetings present wonderful opportunities for groups to clear the air, advance patient care, and become more aware. That's why it's important to always prepare.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO®, a veteran forensic medical investigator turned corporate civility consultant, professional speaker, and author. Jacques helps individuals, businesses, and medical practices create courteous cultures and prosper through professionalism.

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