If you dread team meetings because they’re repetitive, unproductive, and painful, then you can feel pretty confident your employees dislike them even more. The question becomes, how can you transform team meetings from something everyone can barely endure into productive conversations that move your practice forward?
Through my many years of consulting, I’ve observed that employees and dentists adopt personas at meetings that help and hinder the meeting effectiveness. Do you recognize any of these descriptions?
Dental team member personas
The vacationer: Vacationers welcome meetings as an opportunity to sit down and check out for an hour. They don’t care what’s on the agenda because their primary interest is whether they’ll be able to eat lunch, or what they’ll do after work. They’ll answer direct questions but rarely initiate anything because this is their down time, and they believe meetings are the dentist’s responsibility.
The prisoner: These folks detest being forced to meet and can be counted on to express their frustration in all sorts of challenging ways. Prisoners roll their eyes, sigh, and object to most ideas with, “We already tried that,” or “We’re already doing that,” or the ever popular, “That won’t work here.” Prisoners see meetings as a giant waste of time and their behavior ensures that this is what meetings become.
The learner: Ideally, there are some employees who might not look forward to meetings, but since their attendance is mandatory, they’re willing to make the most of the time. Learners hope meetings will help them do their jobs better, improve their skills, and resolve communication issues. However, if meetings don’t deliver these things, learners may turn into vacationers or prisoners.
The bus driver: Bus drivers use meetings to tell everyone what to do: they deliver information, identify practice issues, and present solutions. Their goal is to drive the practice in the right direction, but bus drivers also enable the vacationers to check out, the prisoners to rebel, and the learners to become passive.
The accountant: This dentist manages by the numbers and is convinced that by sharing a dashboard of depressing statistics, the team will spring into action. Meetings led by accountants are punctuated by exhortations such as, “We need to do better on this!” or “This month wasn’t too bad,” and ending with, “Does anyone have any questions?” The team members, having gone into a collective trance state, usually do not have questions.
The teeth gnasher: This dentist is so frustrated they either metaphorically or actually gnash their teeth from stress. This is not a great look for a dentist. The gnasher notices that the team seldom speaks, they must be prodded to add things to the agenda, and they rarely follow through. This results in repeating the same team meeting over and over again. The gnasher doesn’t know how to change this dynamic so considers cancelling team meetings all together.
You might also be interested in: How to avoid ineffective dental staff meetings
7 tips to increase team participation in meetings
It may seem counterintuitive, but if you take a back seat at your meetings, your team members can become the drivers. Here’s how it works.
1. At your next meeting, declare that the era of bad meetings is over. Do something symbolic such as tearing up a spreadsheet (if you’re an an accountant) or asking everyone to blow up and pop balloons that represent previous bad meetings. Share your new intention: that from now on, meetings belong to the team, which means everyone has a part in organizing and running them.
2. Since these are now the team members’ meetings, inform them that they will decide every aspect of future meetings, from timing and structure to purpose. The goal is for meetings to be more useful, efficient, relevant, and productive.
It’s likely your team will look at you either with horror or cynicism. They assume you’ll eventually calm down and the status quo will return. To show you mean business, ask questions, and assign a recorder to write down the team’s final agreements. (This is the last meeting where you will be this direct.) If your team is particularly quiet, have them write down their responses to questions like these:
What do you see as the best possible use of our meeting time? What’s our goal? For example, are these meetings to plan, train, resolve problems, or share statistics? If it’s all these things, what’s our priority? How can we structure our time to accomplish this?
Given this goal, when and how often should we meet? Should we make this decision by consensus, or vote and let the majority rule?
Who leads these meetings? What’s the facilitator’s responsibility? Who should take notes to capture important information? What ground rules about meeting behaviors should be adopted, and how should we handle behavior violations?
Who will create the agenda for the meeting? If it’s the team, what will be done if no one contributes anything? How can we make these meetings fun and interesting? How should we celebrate successes or acknowledge each other’s efforts?
How should we evaluate how well the meetings are working, and how often should we evaluate—at the end of each meeting, monthly, never? When and how should we give feedback?
3. The team can choose from a variety of meeting structures: from one-hour weekly meetings to a half-day monthly meeting. Because continuity helps, I encourage dental practices to hold weekly meetings at the same day and time.
4. Because a common complaint about meetings is that agenda items aren’t always relevant for every job role, consider designating one meeting per month as a departmental meeting. Each department will create their own agenda and then bring their decisions or questions back to the whole team. In this model, the dentist can rotate between teams.
5. My observation is that lunch-time meetings are a problem. If the team prefers meeting during lunch, check with your state’s labor board to determine if this is allowed. If the team insists, I suggest you allot 90 minutes to accommodate people microwaving, checking their phones, using the restroom, etc.
6. Employees are responsible for their professional growth, so they should vote on topics they would like to have more training on. Each quarter the team should answer two questions: What would I like to learn? What can I teach others?
7. If it will lead to making improvements, sharing the practice’s statistics can be helpful. To ensure this, the facilitator can ask three action-oriented questions.
- What should we stop doing because it isn’t working?
- What should we start doing?
- What should we continue doing because it’s getting results?
Ultimately the goal is to develop employee leadership skills. To make these changes, you’ll need to provide training, direction, and support so that each person can make a strong contribution. Meetings will then become a time when your team grows, collaborates, and solves problems.
Editor's note: This article appeared in the October 2023 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.