Almost every independent optometry practice owner I have met has complained they are so time poor that invariably, they can’t even find the time to hold regular staff meetings. These meetings are critical to team cohesion and practice success… How can you ensure your practice meetings are time efficient, productive and approached with positivity?
Many years of working on a very large multinational business campus of over 10,000 people taught me a lot about meetings. On a typical day I would attend three or four meetings which would consume up to half my day. I quickly learned that some meetings, were very useful while others seemed like a not very subtle attempt to move one person’s workload to the whole team. Organising and running effective meetings can be a huge bonus to the efficiency and the temperament or mood of your whole organisation, small or large.
Staff meetings are unique in that unlike project related meetings they occur (or should occur) on a regularly scheduled basis and, because of that they can easily become big time wasters if not properly organised and run.
So, what does it take to run a successful staff meeting at a typical independent optometry practice of say three to 20 employees?
There are really just a few key elements to keep in mind, such as having a clear meeting purpose, an agenda and a published beginning and ending time. Additionally, there should be a designated chairperson, some basic meeting rules and a note taker to record results and action items.
Let’s explore these in more detail.
In the simplest of terms, the purpose of a staff meeting is communication. It is about sharing best practice in the operation of the business – sharing that frequently does not occur during the day due to the pressure of work. Best practice might be reviewing and co-ordinating practice activity up until the next staff meeting, reviewing the most recent practice performance and providing education. It should not, however, be a strategy meeting.
Practice KPIs, rewarding good performance both group and individual, operational issues such as covering for a staff member on leave, a change in suppliers etc. and education such as reviewing the features and benefits of a new piece of diagnostic equipment are all worthwhile issues for a staff meeting.
Not having a written agenda virtually guarantees an aimless meeting with little achieved and a lot of wasted time, leading to a distaste by attendees for future meetings. The basic agenda does not need to be detailed – in fact for staff meetings, it can be virtually identical for each meeting.
optometrists are behind a closed door for the majority of the day. This alone makes the need for staff meetings critical
All meetings should have a chair person and while the default chair is the business owner, this is not essential. Whoever the chair is, it is important they have the full support and backing of the business owner. The chairperson’s primary role is to keep the meeting to the agenda and the set times and to ensure meeting rules are observed. They should be seen more as a facilitator and less as a “boss”.
Meetings can easily get out of hand, especially when controversial topics are discussed and everyone wants to talk at the same time. Establishing a set of guidelines ensures that everyone is treated equally and fairly. The guidelines should not be lengthy or complex. If they are, they will not be observed. Basic guidelines should include beginning and ending meetings on the scheduled times, one person speaking at a time, all attendees receiving equal opportunity, time to speak and respect. Many team leaders also find it beneficial to state that all decisions should be by consensus, but where that is not reasonably achievable, the dissenting minority will respect and honour the decision of the majority. Finally, it is important that discussions in the meeting are confidential and not discussed with others outside the meeting. Personally, I recommend the meeting guidelines are published in small print on the bottom of every agenda.
Beginning and Ending Time
Some team members who are reluctant to attend staff meetings or feel their other work is more important will arrive at meetings late. The meeting should start on time, regardless of the missing team member, but that team member should be counselled after the meeting to ensure they understand their input is valued and their attendance is critical. Future late arrivals without justification should be treated as disciplinary issues.
The items to be discussed need to be clearly spelled out on the agenda. All team members should have the opportunity to contribute to the agenda prior to the meeting. If team members bring up new items not already on the current agenda they should be told that the item:
a. will be discussed at the end of the meeting if there is time, or
b. put on the agenda for a future meeting, or
c. not discussed at a staff meeting because that is not the appropriate forum.
Discussions should always be positive and supportive, especially regarding individual performance. If the meeting uncovers individual performance issues, then they should be discussed privately with that individual. Being positive sets the overall tone of the business.
Where problems are uncovered, the team should be invited as a whole to propose solutions. If the owner/chairperson decides the solution proposed is not viable then his or her reasons should be given. If the consequences are not serious, it is sometimes better to accept the team’s recommendation knowing that it might fail, which allows staff to learn from experience.
Supporting data (statistics, clinical notes etc.) must be prepared prior to the meeting for all agenda items and every agenda item must have an owner who is responsible for that supporting data.
Meeting Notes and Action Items
A team member should be assigned to taking notes (minutes, but less formal) at the meeting and ideally that person should not be the chairperson as it is difficult to record notes and manage the meeting simultaneously.
Note takers should be advised that their role is to record decisions and actions assigned to departments or individuals as well as items to be placed on future agendas. It is not to record the minutiae of the meeting. Notes should be reviewed at the next meeting for accuracy but more importantly to ensure actions assigned were completed. Assigning actions is useless if there is no follow up.
In summary, I am of the belief that every practice should have a staff meeting at least monthly and for busy practices, weekly or fortnightly. Try to schedule staff meetings to ensure casual staff get to attend as frequently as possible. Unlike many small businesses where the boss is usually on the floor with the staff, optometrists are behind a closed door for the majority of the day. This alone makes the need for staff meetings critical.
Michael Jacobs is a business consultant and columnist for mivision. He was the former Chief Executive Officer of Eyecare Plus from 2005 to 2015.