It’s easy to blame your staff for unproductive meetings, but the reality is that your leadership role makes you accountable for using your meeting time wisely, says Patrick Lencioni, founder and president of The Table Group, Inc., a management-consulting firm in Emeryville, CA, and author of the book Death By Meeting (March 2004, Jossey-Bass).
If you don’t capture the attention of your staff during the first 10 minutes of a meeting, they’ll lose interest or become disengaged, and you’ll accomplish little. “Anyone who manages people needs to understand that meetings are critical to an organization,” Lencioni says. “A bad meeting, in most cases, is a function of its leader.”
If you’re concerned about whether your meetings accomplish all they should or benefit your practice, ask yourself the following questions:
- Do staff question the usefulness of meetings or complain about having to attend?
- Do meetings end without resolving critical issues?
- Do staff seem disengaged during meetings?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may need to rethink your meeting topics or strategies. For a more thorough assessment, take the quiz below, “How does your practice measure up?”
Many important organizational decisions are made during meetings, “so if staff and executives are nodding off or waiting for [the meeting] to end, there’s a good chance the decisions being made are bad ones,” Lencioni says.
To avoid negative outcomes, make sure you include the following components in your meetings:
1. Drama. Follow the lead of Hollywood screenwriters: Engage your audience by presenting plenty of conflict early on, Lencioni says. Without high drama right away, the audience loses interest.
“You need to give people something to care about, something worth engaging in conflict over,” he says. “You need to make them aware of what could happen if they don’t engage, and you need to raise the issues at the beginning of the meeting, before the audience checks out.” For example, patients at your practice complain about being seen long after their scheduled appointments. Ignoring the complaints will result in patients leaving the practice, which could force you to fire employees. Coordinate a meeting and set the problem solving wheels in motion. Explain the seriousness of the problem and start a discussion on possible solutions.
Be careful not to create too much drama. You don’t want your staff thinking you’re bringing up conflict for conflict’s sake. Your goal is to let them know why they should be involved in creating solutions to your practice’s problems.
2. Context and purpose. If you don’t help staff understand why you’re conducting a meeting and how you expect them to participate, they won’t buy into the process.
“In many organizations, too much time during meetings is spent discussing topics not critical to the short-term or long-term success of the business,” Lencioni says. “All too often, the most important issues never get put on the table.” When staff understand your reason for holding a meeting, they are motivated to focus on the topic at hand.
They will also know when it’s appropriate to broach certain topics.
Lencioni suggests using a four-pronged approach that includes a daily check-in meeting, a weekly tactical meeting, a monthly strategic meeting, and a quarterly off-site review.
1. Daily check-in (5-10 minutes): Share daily schedules and activities. Don’t sit down. Keep it administrative. Don’t cancel, even when some team members can’t be there.
2. Weekly tactical (45-90 minutes): Review weekly activities and metrics. Resolve tactical obstacles that affect short-term success, such as seeing patients on time everyday. Don’t set the agenda until after initial reporting. Postpone strategic decisions.
3. Monthly strategic (2-4 hours): Discuss, analyze, brainstorm, and resolve critical issues affecting long-term success, such as bringing more patients to the practice. Limit to one or two topics. Do research. Engage in good conflict.
4. Quarterly off-site (1-2 days): Review strategy, competitive landscape, industry trends, key personnel, and team development. Get out of the office. Focus on work and limit social activities. Don’t over-structure or overburden the agenda.
“Too often, leaders throw every possible conversation into one long staff meeting,” he says. “This creates frustration among team members, who struggle to shift back and forth between tactical and strategic conversations, with little or no resolution.” By conducting the four types of meetings, you can avoid some of the confusion.
In addition, when you run a well-organized meeting, more is accomplished and staff leave with a sense of satisfaction. “Dull and uninspiring meetings indicate poor meeting management, which inevitably leads to suboptimal decisions,” he says.
“With the right topics and the right context, [meetings] can be engaging.”
How Does Your Practice Measure Up?
Answer the following questions to find out where your organization stands on meetings:
1. Are your meetings dull and uninspiring?
2. Do team members question the usefulness of meetings?
3. Are critical issues avoided or overlooked during meetings?
4. Do you wonder whether team members are holding back during meetings?
5. Do team members complain about being required to attend meetings?
6. Do meetings end without resolution of critical issues?
7. Do you discuss administrative, tactical, and strategic topics during the same meeting?
8. Are important discussions cut short because of time constraints?
9. Is your team reluctant to go off-site more than once a year to review the state of your organization and business?
10. Do team members seem disengaged during meetings?
If you answered no to all of these questions, congratulations! You have a rare team that has mastered the art of meetings.
If you answered yes to four or fewer of these questions, you could probably improve your practice’s decision-making and overall effectiveness by adjusting the structure and content of your meetings.
If you answered yes to five or more, your meetings likely cause you to waste considerable human and financial resources and create confusion within your organization. Consider significantly changing the content and structure of your meetings.