Loathe team meetings?


Hate is a strong word, but many employees truly do detest their staff-wide sit-downs. Learn to love team meetings.

Done well, team meetings energize and bond the entire staff and serve as a forum for discussing and establishing plans to improve your practice's client and patient care. Done poorly, team meetings turn into boring complaint sessions that waste staff members' time and the practice's money. If the second description sounds familiar, it's time to reevaluate and change the way your team gets together.

Brian Conrad, CVPM

Believe me, I know. About six years ago, the staff meetings at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center where I manage were so dull and unproductive that I was ready to completely give up on them. But we pushed through, and now we hold excellent team meetings every month. How'd we do it? We made some changes. The first was to structure our gatherings based on the five w's. Here's what we did—and what you can do to make your meetings meaningful.

1. Why

To begin with, you and your managerial team need to buy into the idea that team meetings are important. And they are. When our monthly gatherings weren't going well, our client service suffered, team morale was low, and miscommunication was rampant. Too many team members were of the mind certain aspects of the practice didn't pertain to them unless they were directly involved. But that's all changed now.

2. What

The first goal for our managerial team was to focus on what we wanted to accomplish during each session. A week before every meeting, we spent a little time establishing objectives. Following are examples of what we often establish as the purpose for our gatherings. These desired outcomes provided a groundwork for creating a timeline that we'd use to run the meetings.

In-clinic CE. Staff training plays a vital role to our success here at Meadow Hills, so we devote 30 minutes of each meeting to education. Veterinarians, senior staff members, or pharmaceutical representatives present about medical topics, pharmaceutical supplies, client service, or other business-related subjects. The only criteria for the training is that the information be relevant to our entire team. For example, not every member of our staff needs to know whether a specific antibiotic crosses the blood-brain barrier, but each team member does need to know whether a medication needs to be refrigerated or given on a full stomach.

If you schedule a company representative to make a presentation, take time to meet with him or her in advance to discuss what will be covered. Make sure the information is pertinent, will challenge the entire audience, and be useful. Keep in mind that there's no sense in discussing a product at a team meeting if your hospital won't carry it.

Client service. We've taught each and every employee to live and breathe excellent client care. To drum up creative ideas for how we can best serve pet owners, we devote 10 or 15 minutes of every meeting to discussing this topic. During this time, team members share positive and negative examples of their own personal customer-service experiences with other businesses. We talk about how their encounters relate to our veterinary clinic, talking about how to implement similar strategies—or avoid them. These first-person examples increase the team members' desire to improve and exceed expectations.

Team building. Change the pace every now and then to encourage your team members to bond and enjoy themselves. Each quarter, we dedicate one hour-long meeting to a team-building activity. This provides our staff with a chance to do something different, get to know each other, and learn to work with each other better. For ideas about fun and fruitful exercises to do during your meetings, read "How to Go From Bland to Brilliant."

3. When

The second goal we managers implemented to make our team meetings more useful was setting a consistent schedule for conducting them—and sticking to it. First, determine whether your practice needs weekly, monthly, or quarterly meetings. To do this, check the pulse of your practice. If communication issues constantly arise or if your practice is experiencing difficulty with a certain aspect, you might benefit from weekly meetings. On the other hand, if you meet weekly but your agenda is sparse, the time you'll spend away from your patients isn't worth it.

Regardless of the frequency you settle on, it's important to show the staff you're committed to holding the meetings regularly. Practice managers, myself included, often speak of creating value for the clients, but in this case, we need to create a perception of value in the team members' eyes.

I've already set all of our Meadow Hills general staff meetings for 2009. While I can't say quite yet what the exact agendas will be, I can impart the meetings' importance. How? By setting the dates a year in advance and including each one on our employees' schedules.

4. Where

The third roadblock we wanted to overcome at Meadow Hills was finding the proper location for the meetings. For years, we met in our hospital's treatment area. As the staff grew, so did the problems associated with this environment. Between distractions like the IV pumps beeping and the 6-month-old puppy barking to be played with, it was hard for the staff to focus. Then there was the problem of being scrunched. Some team members had to sit around corners so they couldn't even make eye contact with the rest of the group.

With a little thought and investigation, we found several alternatives. Sometimes we head to an economically priced hotel that rents out a smaller meeting room for a reasonable fee. These types of hotels are often willing to negotiate a special rate if you commit to using their facility all year long. Another idea that works for smaller groups is getting together in a continental breakfast room, which many affordable hotels offer. The rooms usually sit idle after the morning rush, making them prime real estate for your staff meetings.

We also discovered a pizza parlor down the road from our practice that offers a meeting room. We get the room for free with the purchase of lunch. With some creativity and negotiating, we now hold our meetings in an effective place for under $75. This is a small fee to pay for obtaining—and holding—your team's attention during such an important time.

5. Who

When we decided to go off-site for our meetings, that left us with the question of who would take care of our practice and our clients while we were out. The solution we've been using for more than five years now was hiring a part-time receptionist whose sole job was answering phones, making appointments, and selling products while we're away. Sure, we have to pay her wages for three hours, but that small fee is well worth it. There's even an added benefit: When our full-time receptionists request time-off, we're able to ask our trained staff-meeting receptionist to step in.

With some preparation, you can revamp your staff meetings into efficient and productive sessions. Just keep in mind that your overall goal is that the entire team leaves the meeting with a mutual understanding of the direction and an energized outlook about the decisions that were made and the positive changes that are coming.

Brian Conrad, CVPM, is practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash. Please send questions and comments to firstline@advanstar.com.

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