Staff meetings should be an effective way to share ideas and information, resolve difficulties, and communicate with team members. Here are some simple ways to make yours better. By Frank Leggett
A dental practice is a busy place with plenty of things happening in quick succession. It can be very stressful at times and it’s all too easy to be focused purely on what you are dealing with at that moment. When that happens, when staff members are not interacting and working together towards a common goal, problems arise. This is where effective staff meetings are essential.
“A staff meeting is a vehicle for communication,” says Brett Churnin, general manager of client relationships at Prime Practice, a dental management and consultancy company. “In many dental practices, it’s all too easy to spend a lot of time on things that are urgent and important—which is mainly seeing patients. But we tend not to spend much time on things that are not urgent but still important.”
In the business realm, this could mean that continuing education or communicating and socialising with your team are not undertaken. Likewise, staff meetings fall into the realm of things that are important but not urgent. However, without effective staff meetings, dental practices became much more reactive. It is by clearly and frequently communicating with all team members that problems can be addressed, pre-empted and systems put in place to stop them happening again.
Mistakes to avoid
Unfortunately, the staff meeting gets a very bad rap in modern culture. Television shows such as The Office—and countless others—depict staff meetings as boring, pointless and a waste of time. The bad news is that we’ve all probably sat through meetings like that.
So what is the best way to make staff meetings efficient, on-point and effective? One of the biggest mistakes is to have a staff meeting without structure or purpose.
“Dentists are hard-wired to find and fix problems—that’s why they’re dentists,” says Churnin. “If a meeting has no structure and no purpose, invariably it becomes an occasion for the dentist/owner to let people know what’s not working. Staff meetings can also be a great vehicle to acknowledge the successes as well as fixing the problems.”
Another mistake is to hold meetings irregularly and too far apart. If meetings are only held monthly, then any issues that needed to be addressed a month ago have been forgotten, pushed aside or ignored.
Meetings that only take place when the need arises leads to a situation where a practice becomes reactive rather than proactive. “We suggest that staff meetings be held weekly,” says Churnin. “If it is a small practice with few team members then fortnightly is probably sufficient. Anything longer than that really doesn’t work.”
Having a clear agenda is essential. It should include a snapshot of issues discussed at the previous meeting and the resolution of any problems. It should spell out what will be discussed at the meeting but remain flexible for new business or last minute additions. Once the agenda is in place, it’s important to engage all members in the meeting.
“I think the secret to a successful staff meeting is to keep it short, sharp and regular.”—Rebecca Simic, practice manager, Maven Dental Spring Hill
“Staff should be encouraged to use the meetings as a way to discuss how the team can make the business a better practice,” says Churnin. “That also means everybody in the practice takes on some form of leadership. Encouraging staff to run team meetings is a perfect opportunity to exercise that leadership.”
One of the biggest problems with a lot of team meetings is that they are not action focused. The meeting turns into a big conversation where everyone talks a lot but nothing gets done. Team meetings need to finish with some very clear action about what was discussed and what needs to be done differently so particular problems don’t happen again.
Rebecca Simic has been practice manager at Maven Dental Spring Hill, Queensland, for the past three years and worked at the clinic for 10 years. They have three dentists, five support staff and their regular staff meetings are an effective way of keeping everybody up to speed. “We hold one big formal staff meeting every quarter,” says Simic.
“These are used to address big-picture issues and keep everyone informed of any changes that may be happening. In addition, we hold a ‘morning huddle’ each day. These only last for 15 minutes and we discuss everything as it’s happening. We can immediately iron out any issues or discuss what is working well.”
While this format may not be suitable for every practice, it works for them. All staff are involved, communication flows easily and problems are dealt with as they arise. Minutes are kept at the formal meetings and notes are kept at the morning huddle if a patient is discussed.
Secret to success
“I think the secret to a successful staff meeting is to keep it short, sharp and regular,” says Simic. “Our morning huddles are just a normal part of our day so no-one is apprehensive about it. The staff know that if they have a problem or an issue it can be addressed by the next day.”
Prime Practice has developed 120 online training videos, each one about five to 10 minutes in length. Brett Churnin has seen these used in staff meetings to great effect. The videos vary in subject matter but often teach something or discuss a new technique.
“The real gold is not just the content or the learning, but the conversation afterwards,” says Churnin. “It gets people thinking and asking questions. What do we think about that thing we just learned? Where do we think we could use that system? Staff start discussing how to make their practice better and if a particular system, idea, technique or tool actually helps move the business forward.”
These sorts of meetings get everyone involved and highlight the importance of teamwork. Staff meetings should aspire to have everyone engaged and understand that decisions affecting the business affect them as well.