Game on! 3 strategies for better veterinary team meetings

January 1, 2019
Jennifer Gaumnitz, Senior Content Specialist
Jennifer Gaumnitz, Senior Content Specialist

Jennifer Gaumnitz is a senior content specialist with dvm360.com. She has worked for the organization in its various incarnations for more than 34 years (thus, the "senior"), for several years serving as managing editor of Veterinary Medicine magazine. She has a bachelors degree in Journalism and Mass Communication with an emphasis in Science Writing and a minor in Zoology from Iowa State University.

Everyones been to a poorly planned, badly run meeting, whether face-to-face or online. Learn easy strategies for not being that managerthe one who forgot to plan ahead.

Make your meetings more effective with these tips from Dr. Stacee Santi. (WavebreakMediaMicro / stock.adobe.com) To begin her “Meet less, accomplish more-Team collaboration tools” session at a recent Fetch dvm360 conference, Stacee Santi, DVM, surveyed audience members about what made for a bad team meeting. The answers poured in: no agenda, no structure, topics that didn't engage everyone, off-topic complaining, blathering about things that can't be resolved right then, and targeting a person in a group session.

“We've all been in a bad meeting, haven't we?” she says.

Dr. Santi was a veterinary practitioner for 20 years and is the founder of Vet2Pet, a technology company that builds mobile apps for veterinarians. As part of both jobs, she has developed and collected numerous tips on planning and conducting a productive team meeting. Here are a few of her favorite suggestions for planning team meetings that are actually worthy of your team's time.

A tactical game plan for better face-to-face meetings

Despite advances in technology, face-to-face team meetings are never going away. It can be hugely valuable to have your whole team together in one place at one time.

“The purpose of a team meeting is to get opinions; you have a topic, you want your team's input, you want their buy-in,” Dr. Santi says. “You're trying to solve some problem. Or you want to bring everyone up to speed on a topic.”

So, how do you build a good team meeting? Dr. Santi's steps include a pre-game plan, the game (the actual meeting) and a post-game wrap-up.

1. Make a pre-game plan

“The first thing you've got to have is a pre-game plan,” she says. “You cannot have a meeting and not prepare. Well, you can ... but it will not go well.”

> The purpose of the meeting: Always know and clearly state the purpose of the team meeting. (Tip: Announcing the purpose may uncover the fact that a meeting is not actually required. Perhaps the issue can be addressed in some other way.)

> The rules of engagement: Clearly state ahead of time your expectations of all meeting participants.

“The first rule of engagement is, ‘Be on time!'” Dr. Santi says. “If I'm hosting a meeting that costs the clinic $1,500 per hour (estimating the cost of staff attending and lost revenue during that hour), and you are 10 minutes late, I might as well take $250 and throw it in the trash can.”

Next, Dr. Santi does not allow cell phones or computers in her team meetings: “We cannot afford to have people in a meeting checking their Facebook or getting distracted by text messages or notifications. It prevents you from engaging.”

Set the bar high, she advises, so your team knows that you expect them to be there, on time and engaged throughout the meeting.

> The invitation list: Be strategic about who you're inviting to your meeting.

“If you've ever been a meeting where you have nothing to contribute and nobody ever asks your opinion, how did you feel?” Dr. Santi asks.

> The agenda: Have one! “You have to prepare for your meetings. However long your meeting is, you will need to spend at least twice that amount of time preparing, thinking about the topics, making sure there is flow to it,” Dr. Santi says. She recommends making the agenda specific and estimating how much time will be spent discussing each topic.

2. Game on!

> Start with a pep talk: “Now that you have all your team together, one of the best things you can do is give a pep talk,” Dr. Santi says. “Bring some energy to your meeting. This is the time to rally the troops; engage and inspire them. People don't come to meetings to get chewed out.”

She says even if you have to deliver some bad news during the meeting, you still want to start it with the right tone. Start with a success story or something that will inspire your team.

> Assign a referee and a time cop: Using your agenda, ask a couple of your team members to help keep track of the time. Create a sign that says, “Five more minutes,” and ask a person to display it. Everyone will know that you have just a few more minutes left on a topic, before moving on to the next agenda item.

“When you put a time limit on people, it prevents tangent blathering,” Dr. Santi says, “And if somebody goes off topic, a courteous way to bring the meeting back to the agenda is to tell that person that you're interested, but you will need to talk to them about it offline or later.”

She says not to let others derail your meeting, but also be sure to follow up with individuals later if you say you will.

> Choose meeting topics worthy of people's opinions: “Provide a healthy environment for people to discuss, debate and disagree on topics,” Dr. Santi says. If your team sits quietly and doesn't speak up during a team meeting, they're not engaged.

“If everyone is agreeing with you in your meetings and they're boring, there are two possible reasons,” Dr. Santi says. “One, your team culture isn't that great, or two, you suck at hosting a good team meeting and your leadership skills aren't that great. Luckily, you can work on both of those things.”

3. Always include a post-game wrap-up

> Keep and distribute meeting notes: Dr. Santi says to ask a staff member to serve as a note-taker and to summarize the meeting. “They need to capture the Who, What and When topics of the meeting,” she says.

> Assign DRIs: Dr. Santi says to take a tip from the late Steve Jobs of Apple: Always assign a directly responsible individual (DRI) for every task that was decided on during the meeting. Be sure everyone understands their own takeaways from the meeting.

> Ask attendees to rate the meeting: “I'm a fan of asking people to write a number from one to 10 on a piece of paper, ‘What would you rate this meeting?' and throw it in a basket.” And then she asks the follow-up question: “If you didn't give it a 10, what would we need to do to make it a 10?”

“Believe me, your people will tell you,” she says.

So, plan carefully, stick to your agenda, and ask for (and heed) your team's feedback about the last meeting. You may not get every meeting perfect, but with your team's help, you can definitely work on holding meetings that add value to everyone on your team.

Note: Some of Dr. Santi's ideas about meeting planning have been inspired by Darren Hardy.