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Secrets to Successful Meetings

One of the most often heard complaints from staff members and supervisors alike is amount of time that is dedicated to "useless" meetings and training. It seems the larger the organization grows, the more accurate that complaint becomes. You can avoid this trap by following a few guidelines for effective meetings and in-service sessions:

  • Make sure the topic is relevant and timely. Use a recent situation or medical case to help illustrate the point of the training. Make the information relevant by using actual examples whenever possible. Avoid repeating "old news" topics unless there is a need for new information or remedial instruction.

  • Use alternatives to meetings whenever applicable. When you simply have to disseminate information without evaluating opinion or performance, consider using a memo on the bulletin board or in each staff member's pay envelope as an alternative to discussing it in a meeting. This tactic can work both ways. Instead of the traditional "top down" training, some practices actually require each staff member to submit a suggestion for improvement or a summation of a journal CE article each month. This form of self-directed learning is gaining great acceptance in the business world as a supplement to interactive training topics.

  • Not only is this method of instruction more "personal" for each staff member, the entire organization will spend less time in boring meetings. Of course, not all training topics are conducive to non- interactive methods, but for those that are, this method is a great variation on the traditional ways.

  • Make sure the audience has had plenty of notice. One of the favorite excuses for missing training or other important sessions is "Nobody told me!" You can avoid this annoying excuse by planning the sessions well in advance. Try including a reminder note in each staff member's pay envelope (or attached to their new time cards) about a week preceding the event. Also post notices of important meetings on the bulletin board or near the time clock. Even thought it's not practical to verbally inform each staff member individually, you can still give them a personal invitation to be present!

  • Time the training to the work schedule. Establish a regular time and place for training. By having the training "built into" the schedule, you have a better chance of attendance, participation and retention of the materials because the staff does not view the session as a disruption to the normal work day.

  • Ask the staff when it would be best for them. Strive for weekly or at least monthly sessions that are held on the same day of the week at the same time of the day. Retention of information and participation increases for meetings in the morning. Thursdays also seem to be the best days of the week for in-service sessions. Avoid Mondays, Fridays, lunch-time, late afternoon and after work sessions when enthusiasm is at the lowest.

  • Get the orientation training for new staff members out of the way before you become dependent on their time. Large businesses have learned that if they schedule the new staff member for orientation on the first two days of employment, it will be accomplished, but if they wait until the staff member assumes duties, the success rate goes down dramatically. Use an in-processing checklist to ensure all the little details are covered.

  • Dedicate enough time for the topic. Limit sessions to one or two topics and avoid the tendency to "get it all over with at once." As a general rule, shorter, more frequent sessions can be accommodated easier than longer ones; most people can find thirty minutes a week for an in-service session but find it harder to "break-away" for a full afternoon once a month. It's also been shown that retention of the information and compliance with the directives is greater when the message is delivered in shorter, more frequent formats.

  • Eliminate foreseeable interruptions. There is no doubt that patient treatments, client phone calls and special projects are important, but unless they are a true medical emergency, they should not be allowed to interfere with a scheduled meeting or training session. Let the senior staff members know that their full participation is expected and that they must schedule their day accordingly. Don't let one or two "indispensable" staff members disrupt the session for everyone else.

    Most practices will leave a skeleton crew "behind" at the front desk to take phone calls and assist clients. This may be just one person, but that depends on the practice. That crew has to watch the videotape of the meeting later; that way everyone gets the same unfiltered information and the front desk is still covered without someone running in and out of the meeting.

  • Concentrate on the positives. Avoid the urge to use the training for reprimands for past mistakes. Focus on the correct way to do things and save the reprimands for more appropriate times.

  • Start & stop on time. Be conscious of everyone's schedule; begin and end sessions on time. Avoid waiting for the chronic "stragglers." By setting the precedent of sticking to the schedule, staff members will be more interested in the message because they know this is not going to drag on into the rest of their day. It's better to close the meeting on time, even if all the information has not been discussed than it is to extend the meeting. Except in very rare situations, the undiscussed material can be disseminated by means of a handout or even a memo prepared after the meeting.

By following these simple suggestions, you can hold more informative, less disruptive meetings or training. Remember that old adage "The team that trains together stays together!" And who wouldn't want more harmony and less turnover in their staff?

Did You Know...?

Providing food to increase attandance at meetings may sound like a good idea, but there is conflicting research on the issue. 

One study at the Mayo Clinic found that attendance statistics did not change at the faculty meetings for the department of radiology, which offered food one year but did not the next. Another study found that attendance at medical grand rounds meetings at the Mayo Clinic was significantly affected by the presence of food.