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MANAGING THE OFFICE

10 tested ways to make your staff meetings more interesting and productive

Say the word “meeting” and people tend to groan.

In fact, according to a survey conducted by Salary.com, which looks at where and how employees waste time, nearly half of those surveyed cite attending meetings as the biggest time-waster.

But a meeting can be a positive experience. Really.

As a medical office manager, a meeting offers you a leadership opportunity. It serves as a forum where you can share changes, talk about challenges, and address concerns. A meeting also provides a time and place for staff members to interact and exchange ideas.

With proper planning and attention to detail, you can run a highly effective meeting.

Here are 10 steps that will help you make the most of your meetings.

1. Choose the best possible time.

This isn’t as easy it sounds. No doubt your office is extremely busy, all the time.

Does coming in early make sense?

Perhaps not it does not if your staff includes parents with school-age children. The same goes for staying late, if this is the case. What about a lunchtime meeting? If your office closes for a half or full hour at lunchtime, this time could be idea. Providing staff with lunch at the practice’s expense could be viewed as a nice perk.

Whatever time you choose, make sure you give staff plenty of advance notice. You may not have lunchtime plans on Friday, but others might.

You may not be able to get everyone in a room at the same time if someone has to cover the phones and front desk.

Make sure you give them a chance to participate by telling them what will be discussed and filling them in on what happened at the meeting.

2. Set a time limit for the meeting, and stick to it.

If you say the meeting will take place between noon and 1 p.m., the meeting should end at 1 p.m. This is even more important if you’ve scheduled a meeting for the end of the day when people must move on from the job to personal responsibilities.

Keep an eye on the clock as you keep the meeting on track.

It is also important to start the meeting on time and not wait for latecomers. If important business takes place before everyone arrives, make a note to fill in the tardy ones later.

3. Have an agenda.

In order to keep the meeting on track, you should have an agenda. Although it may strike you as too formal, this agenda should be written—even if you have a great memory.

A meeting agenda can be handwritten, on a notepad, but it should include the topics you want to discuss in the order you want to discuss them. The list of topics and the scope of discussion should be narrow enough to cover in the allotted time.

Consider distributing or posting the agenda so others can prepare for their part in the meeting and can also hold their comments and questions for the appropriate part of the meeting. If you are talking about the new collections procedure, you don’t want to be pulled off track by comments on staff hours.

If, when creating an agenda, you find you have too many items or that the topics are too broad, think about why you are calling the meeting and what you hope to gain from it. Creating an agenda has an added benefit of helping you get focused prior to the meeting, and it will allow you to stay on topic during the meeting.

4. Accentuate the positive.

It’s important to set the right tone for a staff meeting, even if, and especially if, there are sensitive topics to discuss. Always begin by emphasizing the positive. This is your team, and they are looking to you not only for leadership but positive reinforcement. A meeting is the perfect time to recognize the group effort and the collective strengths of the team.

A new billing process that is up and running or an improved patient intake procedure can be cause for celebration at a staff meeting.

Note: It is not a time to single out specific contributions.

Make sure accolades are earned and sincere. People know when praise is genuine, just as they know when it’s not.

5. Critique carefully.

If you must bring a potentially sensitive issue to the staff’s attention, do so with attention to their concerns and their workplace reputations. Here again, any issue you raise should pertain to the entire staff. This is not the time or the place to single out one or two offenders.

Note: Even if you don’t mention people by name, others will know who the culprits are.

Reminders about office policies are fine; however, conversations about policy violation should be handled privately. You can remind everyone about restrictions on use of personal phones, but don’t single out those who are taking too many calls at work.

6. Ask for input.

New technology, new or exiting employees, and other seemingly ordinary occurrences in the workplace offer ideal opportunities to engage staff. Discussion should focus on making transitions easier, work more enjoyable, and the workplace more harmonious.

It’s important this not turn into a gripe session. Keep the discussion focused on how to best get results; ask for helpful suggestions and encourage new ideas.

7. Take notes.

Yes, write things down even if you have a great memory. Taking notes will help you keep the meeting on track and show staff you take their feedback seriously. Notes may also reveal where you need to follow up, either with others in the practice or with staff at a later date.

8. Summarize the discussion.

As the meeting comes to an end, quickly recap what was discussed. Your agenda, along with the notes you have taken, will serve as a guide for reviewing the basic points covered during the meeting.

9. Include action steps.

As you bring the meeting to a close and summarize what was said, make sure you include action steps. Preferably, these steps will include tasks you will perform as well as steps staff will take. For example: “We all agree more training on the new system is required. I’ll look into our training options and get back to you regarding the consultant’s availability. You’ve indicated Friday mornings are best, so we’ll try to arrange training for that time.”

Presenting action steps in this way shows that you are the leader and part of the team.

10. Follow up with staff.

Action steps are only effective if there is follow-through. Do what you say you’re going to do, and if there’s a delay let people know why. At the same time, make sure staff members are making progress on agreed-upon tasks. Plan to report on progress at a follow-up meeting.

Ultimately, the meeting itself should be a productive session, but it should also result in a more productive work environment. Following these steps will put you on the path to achieving both.

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