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Would you like to build a reputation for staging the best meetings in the house? To pull it off, you’ll need to join the elite 2% who spend as many as five hours planning for them. (To compare your meeting preparation times with those of your peers, see box, below.) Actually, those five hours will pass in a flash when you set your meetings up with the same care as the two pros who share their secrets here:
1. Do the homework.
Rosemary Keeley, Improvement Services director at VHA Atlantic in Charlotte, NC, prepares by anticipating data needs and assembling literature reviews. Her goal is to give the participants minimal homework assignments and send them back to work with action goals that change the way they do their jobs.
2. Craft a crystal-clear agenda with time lines.
Keeley shuns vague terms like "old business" and "new business." Rather, she describes each element, such as "results from last week’s measures," or "problems with new emergency department admissions protocol."
While your participants might mistake you for a control freak at first, allot a time interval, such as 10 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., for each item. Make it stick by timing it yourself or delegating the task to someone who’s assertive enough to handle it. And it goes without saying that any self-respecting leader starts meetings on time.
Take pains to gather the key stakeholders and decision makers around the table because nothing kills enthusiasm like delaying action until you can regroup with the missing player. By the same token, if you find that you don’t need the input of everybody you’ve gathered, give them an opportunity to leave. Michael Begeman, manager of the Austin, TX-based 3M Meeting Network says, "It’s a beautiful thing to respect people’s time enough to let them walk out."
Once you have the core group in place, it’s time to get to work using the following steps:
3. Everyone contributes.
Keeley uses gatekeeper techniques to keep the energy up all around the room. To the long-winded, she’ll say, "Great idea, John. Now Gwen, what are your thoughts on it?" Sometimes, she conducts round robins where people share ideas by turn around the table. "I make sure people walk out the door having contributed one or two times — even the quietest person," she says.
4. Meeting minutes should be easy to write and a snap to read.
Begeman likes minutes that record three items for each piece of business:
— decisions made;
— action items including who will do it, what he or she will do, and when it will be done;
— open issues stating when discussion will resume. A quick review of action items gets everybody’s alignment and solidifies responsibilities for implementation.
Two-minute continuous quality improvement taps the intelligence of your participants.
Begeman closes his meetings by asking for a quick round of input to these two questions:
— What worked at this meeting?
— What would improve meetings like this in the future?
Considering how much time people spend in meetings each week, they’ll be able teach you even more than this article about those two questions. (For details, see above chart.)
When Keeley leads rapid-cycle change teams, she has to sustain a high level of excitement to effect significant changes in short time intervals. To do it, she sets a three-meeting limit. "I also use the biggest block of time I can get," she explains. "Most people are used to meeting in one-hour time blocks, but we’ve learned that if we have double-long meetings, we can finish in half the time."
Both Keeley and Begeman write key discussion points on flip charts to help people pay attention and remember what happened. Keeley adds one suggestion: "The person who is leading the meeting should write on the flip chart because that person will get the eye contact."