10 Patterns To Avoid / Five Points To Apply
by Debra Engelhardt–Nash
For more on this topic, go to www.dentaleconomics.com and search using the following key words: meetings, team meetings, productivity, efficiency, communication.
OK, so this isn't a clinical article. It isn't even about treatment presentation skills or chairside efficiency. But the information will have an impact on the daily activities in your office and your practice productivity.
My years of in–office consulting have given me the privilege of observing many offices. I have had the honor of working with outstanding clinicians and talented team members. In my experience, the most successful practices combine exceptional leadership and dedicated auxiliaries. By providing opportunities for growth with ongoing training and ever–improving systems, these practices seem to soar effortlessly. But all this doesn't happen by chance. It requires vision and dedication, strategic planning and communication. There must be time away from the chair to accomplish success and grow.
“Away from the chair” is not the favorite place in the office for most dentists. Business planning, facilitating team meetings, or working through personnel issues places many dentists in a zone of discomfort. Sometimes, in addition to giving advice about how to run things well, it is useful to add a hit list to help identify when things are less than productive.
Meetings can be hugely productive, especially if you avoid these 10 meeting busters:
1) No agenda — When there is no agenda, there is no opportunity to prepare, no framework for the meeting, and no purpose. When this happens a lot, there is a tendency for falling into number five below.
2) Wrong people there — Have you ever been to a meeting where there was no logical reason for you to be there? Meeting time is valuable, so it is important for efficiency and effectiveness that as few people attend as is purposeful. People should appreciate that nonattendance at a particular meeting is OK. There are times in the practice for all–team meetings, and times to break the team into smaller focus groups to create a faster and more effective change in certain areas of the practice.
3) Overrun — Those times when you sit in a meeting and watch life slip away are those that happened with poor meeting management. Nothing is accomplished. The same items continue to be hashed out with no resolution. There is nothing worse than lack of follow–through and no accountability.
4) No discipline — Some meeting participants do not know how to behave. These are things about them and their ego, lack of self–confidence, and poor behavior (outside the meeting, too) that are destructive to meeting progress. Lack of courtesy, understanding, and space for others to say their piece is inexcusable and not constructive for any positive outcomes.
5) The leader leads — Here, the meeting is at the beck and call of the leader or chair who really is holding court for him– or herself. In this sort of meeting there appears to be a democracy, but in reality, there is nothing of the sort. This is a rubber–stamping meeting that has little or no value. The leader makes a decision and the team simply needs to be informed about it. The same information can be provided in a memo or brief announcement.
6) The leader doesn't lead — This type of meeting is a free–for–all, with no leadership from the chair. Poor behaviors, poor timekeeping, and no positive outcomes riddle this meeting, with no measurable results and frayed–tempered, frustrated attendees. The team wonders why they showed up. The doctor wonders why he or she didn't prep some teeth in the same time allotted.
7) Environment — The room is too hot, too cold, too big, too small, there's no water, no breaks. Have you ever been in one of these meetings? And aren't they awful, so awful, in fact, that you can't do your best? This is a meeting where the organizers do not respect the participants.
8) Nothing happens — A lovely chat, a few disagreements, and “see you next month.” This is the nice–to–have meeting that does nothing and goes nowhere.
9) Side–tracked/new stuff — With an agenda, people know what the meeting will be about — or do they? Even with the best agenda, weak processes tend to leave room for new issues, side–tracking, and wasted time. This is solvable with effort from the facilitator.
10) No review and growth — Meetings come and go and can be awful. They are unproductive, boring, overrun, and people are there who shouldn't be. If there is no review of just how good or bad the meeting has been, there will be no improvement. The leader/facilitator can add meeting feedback as the first agenda item and stick to it — it's tough at first but it gets easier.
Step by step, you can work — with or without a facilitator — to unravel exactly what needs to change. You will make a big difference, not only in meetings and how productive they are, but also in your capacity to build great relationships with the people who show up.
Making meetings work
We have all attended meetings that were boring, mindless, and profoundly ineffective. But meetings don't have to be a waste of time. Rather, they can be productive if the leader or chairperson practices five strategies and gets down to the business of running the meeting instead of being run by it.
People will then leave the meeting with smiles on their faces, not frowns. The team will be more creative, enthusiastic, and productive. Everyone will feel that the meeting was time well spent. These five strategies are:
1) Introduction — Provide a quick progress update to allow everyone air time at the beginning of the meeting. This helps everyone settle in. What has happened since the last meeting?
2) Ground rules — Have participants agree on ground rules or expectations for this particular meeting. These simple rules of the road not only set the standards, but also are gentle reminders to those who are taking a different road or direction. Some examples are: “One conversation at a time,” or “We will come to a consensus on these particular issues,” or “What is said in this room stays in this room.”
3) Pending agenda — When a nonagenda issue threatens to take over the discussion, stop the meeting and write — with permission from the group — this new issue on a wall chart called “unfinished business.” By doing this, you acknowledge the item but don't address it immediately. Pending agenda issues can be discussed at the end of the meeting or at a later date.
4) Questions — To structure an orderly discussion of each agenda item, ask questions that address these facets of an issue: What are the facts? What are the pros and cons? What other options are there? Where should the decision be made — at the management level or by the entire group? What might be the next steps?
5) Breaks — People work better for longer periods of time when they are able to take short breaks, no longer than five or 10 minutes. Breaks are a good time to get feedback on the progress of the meeting or talk with people who have been antagonistic, disruptive, or unusually silent. It's better to take a break, check the pulse, and regroup than to doggedly push on despite a sense that the meeting is getting out of hand.
Having a good meeting that accomplishes progress is critical in keeping the team focused and enthusiastic. It gives the team a sense of community and allows for better work flow.
The meeting needs to include the answer to the questions “What's in it for us?” and “What is the purpose of this change or this plan?” The doctor is responsible for creating the reason why the team “buys in” to the goals, and the reasons for change. The process of gaining acceptance is as important as the plan itself.
Otherwise, the team will see change as extra effort with no incentive. If you want the involvement and support of the team, they need to be connected to the plan and their personal reward. This does not necessarily mean more money.
There could be other incentives that are more important to the group. It may be better teamwork or a planned retreat as a group. It could be creating a less stressful day. The more benefits for change that are outlined during the meeting, the more energized the team will be.
Your investment in planning a good meeting following the “dos and don'ts” outlined here will generate a positive impact on your team. Your team meetings will be anticipated with excitement instead of dread. You will create action rather than anxiety. Your meetings will be pertinent, to the point, and purposeful. Everyone will feel the difference — doctor, team, and patient.
Debra Engelhardt–Nash has been involved in dentistry for more than 25 years as a trainer, author, and presenter. Nash is cofounder of the Nash Institute for Dental Learning, a postgraduate training facility for doctors and team members. Contact her by phone at (704) 364–5272, or on the Web at [email protected].