- Posted Tuesday September 15, 2020
I was once sat in a managers' meeting for three and a half hours, two of which were dedicated to dirty cups being left in the sink.
I’m pretty sure this scarred me for life.
Ever since then, I get a bit tetchy when it comes to meetings (and don’t even get me started on ‘pre-meetings’ or the like). Saying that, I’ve used that experience as a lesson in how bad meetings are run and what to do to avoid them - whether it’s face to face or video, planning is always key.
1 : Why are we having this meeting?
If the answer is “because we haven’t had one for a while” then resist the urge to ‘assert yourself’. Instead, ask what the purpose of the meeting is – do we need to develop a plan, solve a problem, evaluate a risk, set up a meeting of new groups (e.g. for an impending practice merger), or even a combination of the above. A couple of basic questions to ask;
- What goal(s) do we want to accomplish?
- How will a meeting help us achieve this goal?
Then ask whether it needs to be a face-to-face or not – live is good for a back and forth conversation, but you can do this on Zoom, Teams, Webex or other virtual tools (and there’s no unnecessary travel either).
If news can be delivered via email or just by rallying a few people together for 15 minutes, then it's probably a good idea to skip the formal meeting altogether.
(…and If all it needs is a sign above the sink saying “wash up after yourselves”, then just do it and inform everyone afterwards – no need to bring your soapbox and have a rant and waste everyone else’s time…)
Virtual : The same applies, but think about what will be happening at the meeting – if you are intending to share information, will your chosen software allow you to share a presentation, both video and audio? Most have a ‘share screen’ option, so take some time beforehand to test and practice.
2 : Do I need to be there?
If you have something to contribute to the purpose, you have a key role in making or carrying out a decision, or if you’re affected by the decisions made, then you should be there.
Do you need a reception manager there when it’s a clinical issue that needs a GP to make a decision? If they need to be informed of what was discussed at a meeting but don’t need to be there, then give them a written summary. They will most likely appreciate the time-saver and they get to know what was discussed.
Virtual : Just because you can add 30 people to an online meeting doesn’t mean you have to – you need to invite those people that need to be involved and can contribute the right way. Ask participants to check their internet connections beforehand, or you might need to forward some material beforehand in case they get cut off by a bad signal. See if your software includes additional features like screen-sharing and recording capabilities that let you share the meeting.
3 : What discussions need to happen?
You wouldn’t need a meeting unless you had a purpose that needs everyone’s input. Describe the work your group needs to do to achieve its goal and be clear about the meeting’s purpose and the expectations – interacting and sharing ideas is not only welcome, but it’s also frequently the entire purpose of the meeting.
If the meeting doesn’t have some structure then you could potentially go down some endless rabbit-holes that tend to go nowhere. Set an agenda that includes the topics covered, put some times next to it and stick to them – e.g. 5 mins on stats, 20mins on QOF, and a maximum of 0.001 mins on the impact of filtered coffee stainage and the quantity of washing up liquid you have to use to clean those gosh-darn mugs…!
As well as having the agenda, plan the right discussion/activities as well. We’ve all seen it so many times – we get to a topic, somebody reads it off the agenda, then sits back and everyone looks around to see who goes first, or someone takes the opportunity to go off on a tangent.
The Chair needs to frame it so others can engage e.g. list the pros and cons of a proposal, a top 3 list, or a full-on group exercise (with a time limit).
Virtual : For every virtual meeting, it's important to have a clear agenda and guidelines to ensure that everyone is on the same page;
- Key points
- Meeting structure (including time allocated for each point)
- Who is in attendance
- What each person needs to bring to the meeting
- Relevant documents or files
(A cheeky 3a : Take side issues out of this meeting)
So yes, if you’re talking about infection control risk assessments and somebody jumps in to express their displeasure at the purchase of a particular brand of washing-up liquid (?!), then tactfully point them to another time and place – if they’re that passionate about it, they can be in charge of kitchen patrol duties.
Address any off-topic questions for another time or meeting, but state that it is dealt with separately. Nobody likes a runaway meeting.
Virtual : Software like Zoom have a ‘side-room’ option so any other issues can be taken away from the main meeting, otherwise a select few can reschedule a meeting for another time.
4 : Summarise the meeting
The minutes should be sent out as soon as possible after the meeting to all those who attended and any of those who couldn’t. Include any of the decisions made, action points and who is responsible for them, and dates for any actions due (you might want to include any chat messages from a virtual meeting if it’s relevant). Summarise things like the next steps for the group, assigned tasks, deadlines and due dates, who’s in charge of the kitchen washing-up rota…
By having the responsible person identified in the notes, this can lead to a future outcome like a project lead, so people know who to ask about a particular issue.
Something that a lot of people miss – was it the right way to deal with the issues? Did it really need a meeting, or could it have been an email? Was there enough time, the right people, the right venue? Was it chaired effectively?
Virtual meetings will prompt similar reflection – did everyone engage, did they get something out of the meeting, are they more informed than they were before they entered the meeting? As the facilitator, the Chair’s job is to create a space where people can vocalise and not be overshadowed by other overpowering personalities. You might want to do a smaller group next time, or make it a shorter time period with each person committed to speaking or sharing something. The key point is not “how can I get this over with quicker” but “how can we make this more useful”
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