Busy doctors need well-run meetings


Nothing is more frustrating to a busy physician than a poorly run meeting.

But regular partner meetings facilitate strategic planning, entry into new ventures and votes on key decisions. And staff meetings can help communicate and advance your practice’s mission and goals.

By using common sense and some basic rules of meeting management, you can conduct effective meetings that engage partners and employees instead of putting them to sleep.

Even parliamentary procedures boil down to two basic principles, says Collette Collier Trohan, CPP-T, PRP, a certified professional parliamentarian in Silver Spring, Md., and owner of A Great Meeting Inc. The meeting procedures must maintain order so that:

1. The whole group can attend to the matter at hand, and
2. One participant doesn’t dominate the conversation, time and decision-making.

Whether your practice uses Robert’s Rules of Order or the Standard Code of Parliamentary Procedure, the rules for conducting a meeting should not be intimidating.

“When kids gather on a playground to start playing, they set up rules,” says Trohan. “Every rule comes down to either ensuring fairness or preventing confusion.”

This starts with planning.

Planning the meeting

Prepare for the meeting by determining its purpose and setting an agenda. If decisions need to be made, put them on the agenda and allot the proper amount of time. Refer decisions that aren’t really ready for a vote to a committee for a later report.

Consider the order of items and the time allotted for each item when you set the agenda. Place important issues near the top. Don’t save items such as financials and new projects for the end of the meeting.

Be sure to gather and distribute all background information participants need to review well in advance of the meeting so everyone can come prepared for discussion. Encourage participants to ask individual questions about the information before the meeting so that meeting time is not consumed unnecessarily.

Establishing rules

Once the meeting begins, establishing rules of debate helps the group honor the agenda. A misperception of parliamentary procedure is that the rules are rigid. In reality, your group can create rules based on the principles of order for your own situation.

You’re free to create rules to prevent one member from dominating the discussion. For example, enforcing a rule that a person cannot speak a second time on a motion if anyone present has not yet spoken on the motion helps encourage participation.

Rules of debate help move the meeting along, improve fairness and raise the level of discussion, says Trohan.

They also help the meeting leader by providing a framework for conducting a fair and efficient meeting. This is particularly important because of leader turnover.

In medical practices and the many physician associations she assists, Trohan notes that elected leaders generally spend most of the first year learning the leadership job.

If an elected position lasts only one year, the current leader is just becoming comfortable in the role when it’s time to cycle in a new leader. Having consistent rules of debate from year to year takes some pressure off the leader.

Orderly meetings help leaders clearly communicate the goals of the organization.

“Leaders should take two minutes to start every meeting with the most important issue or cultural philosophy they want to promote,” says Tim Wright of Wright Results in Austin, Texas, who specializes in helping managers engage employees on the job. “If it’s customer service, they should spend a quick two minutes on customer service to kick off every meeting.”

Likewise, if trust is an issue among partners, says Wright, start with a trust message. Employees will eventually get the message.

Once you move to discussing issues and voting on motions, Trohan cautions to work from the words, not the ideas. “A motion is nothing more than a string of words that describes the decision being made,” she says.

Often, people get bogged down in disliking the ideas.

To move the issue along, they need to simply suggest which words to take out or add. “That’s the amendment,” says Trohan.

Your practice’s staff meetings should follow the same common-sense principles. Prepare agendas, distribute information in advance and set rules of debate – even if the meetings don’t have formal motions and votes – to ensure that the meetings don’t turn into lectures or gripe sessions.

Providing follow-up

But even a well-planned and well-maintained meeting won’t accomplish much without proper follow-up. Always follow up with accurate minutes or actions as promised.

And remember to reinforce those messages you began each meeting with, says Wright. “Put them on every internal memo, on the follow-up e-mails, in every communication,” he says.