5 steps to more effective meetings

March 7, 2011
Any number of things can turn a potentially successful meeting into a disaster, making it a waste of time and loss of productivity. Take Sally McKenzie’s five steps and ensure that your next team meeting is the first of many great meetings to come.

Editor's note: Reprinted with permission from McKenzie Management

By Sally McKenzie, CEO

For too many dentists, staff meetings are viewed as a hopeless waste of time in which production is sacrificed. They are intended to be effective and involve information sharing and problem-solving opportunities. But any number of things can turn a potentially successful meeting into a disaster, including lack of an effective agenda, lack of ground rules, clashing personalities, turf wars, and more.

Take the following five steps and ensure that your next meeting is the first of many great meetings to come.

No. 1 — Establish ground rules

Too often meetings get derailed because there is no code of conduct, and they degenerate into a free-for-all. You have the dominators who absolutely must express their opinion. The silent sulkers cannot get a word in, so they simply shut down until after the meeting when they share their true thoughts. Then there are the “side conversationalists” who are whispering away and “multitaskers” who are checking e-mail or cruising Facebook on their smartphones, and the list goes on. With the team, establish the ground rules for your meetings at the outset.

For example:

  • Make sure meetings start and end at the designated time.
  • Address agenda items one at a time.
  • Make sure everyone comes to the meeting prepared and on time.
  • Insist that everyone must express his or her opinions and viewpoints politely.
  • Allow one person to speak at a time.
  • Everyone must listen with respect.
  • Turn off cell phones and laptops.
  • Share relevant information freely.
  • Welcome questions to better understand issues and points of view.
  • When necessary, explain the reasoning behind opinions.
  • Welcome disagreements and differing opinions as opportunities to learn more about an issue and ultimately make a more informed decision.
  • Send meeting notes within one week of the meeting.

Post these rules where everyone can see them at every meeting. In addition, ask a member of the team to read them aloud at the start of every meeting, at least early on. Don’t let people slide — gently remind offenders of the rules from day one.

No. 2 — Keep the group focused

Share the agenda a minimum of two days in advance of the meeting to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to adequately prepare. Arrange the agenda so that the most important items are addressed at the top of the meeting. Assign a time limit to discuss each item. If an issue requires additional time, ask the group members if they feel the matter deserves more discussion or if it should be tabled until the next meeting.

No. 3 — Control the meeting

Keep the dominators from taking over the meeting and shutting everyone else down by frequently using round-robin exercises. Start with the person to the right or left of the dominator, go around the room and ask each person to share their input.

No. 4 — Facilitate

Assign a facilitator (not the doctor) for each staff meeting. This person keeps the meeting on track and calls on people in the order in which they raise their hands. The facilitator politely enforces the ground rules. He or she monitors the clock to ensure that issues are given the time necessary. And as matters come up that are important but outside the scope of the discussion, the facilitator tracks them in the “parking lot.” Let me explain. During discussion, it’s natural for other important issues and good ideas to emerge that require further exploration. These items are posted on the wall in what’s called the “parking lot.” This helps everyone to stay focused on the discussion at hand, not just his or her pet issue. Participants know that the matter will be taken up later in the meeting before the group adjourns, or it will be included on the agenda for the next meeting.

No. 5 — Identify and state your action items

At the close of every meeting, confirm the list of actions, determine who is responsible for which tasks, and ask if they need assistance from anyone else to complete that task. Reiterate deadlines that have been established.

With a little planning and preparation, meetings can be highly effective information-sharing and problem-solving sessions. It’s a matter of practice and commitment.

Author bio
Sally McKenzie is CEO of McKenzie Management, a full-service consulting/coaching dental management company, providing proven management solutions since 1980. Sally is also publisher of The New Dentistmagazine dedicated to dentists in the first 10 years of practice. She is a contributing editor to Dentistry Today and the publisher of The Dentist's Network. She can be reached at (877) 777.6151 or [email protected].