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Benefit from more effective meetings

By Karen Crouch
Meetings, no matter how small or large, are an imperative for teams working towards goals. KAREN CROUCH looks at the elements that are critical to efficient and effective meetings.

A practice sometimes takes pride in its team’s strong interpersonal communication based on the frequency at which meetings are held. However, a closer review of many meetings reveals that despite being praiseworthy achievements in terms of quantity, they often lack more important factors such as quality and results.

We are often involved in assessing the effectiveness of various practices’ meetings with a view to enriching the quality of such gatherings, improving decision making, and making meeting resolutions more widely known. This includes the enforcement of existing practice management or staff behavioural policies.

We have noted a number of common threads that flowed through many, if not most, practices.

Meetings were invariably conducted between various job families – such as administration, clinicians and principals – but rarely across craft groups.

"A closer review of many meetings reveals that despite being praiseworthy achievements in terms of quantity, they often lack more important factors such as quality and results"

Despite this, staffs are often of the view that the level of communication within their practice is high. This was based on the degree of familiarity and the general level of friendliness between all staff, undoubtedly a favourable outcome from the perspective of office morale.

However, many interviewees commented that decisions were often not clear, not communicated effectively, or not meaningfully recorded for future reference. This frequently results in the poor implementation of a meeting’s resolutions.

It is well worth noting that a practice’s attitude and discipline towards having regular meetings is not to be discouraged, as their basic appreciation of the need for effective communication is praiseworthy.

Effective meetings

With staff cooperation, we defined the following desirable benefits of an effective meeting:

  • The target outcomes of a meeting are clearly defined and understood by participants, via an agenda

  • Communication and decision making is improved, including accurate recording of salient outcomes

  • Experiences, information and knowledge are freely exchanged

  • The forum is exploited as a ‘work smarter’ opportunity, to achieve continuous improvement

  • Decisions are implemented through effective communication and follow through, and

  • Quality corporate governance practices are maintained

    large leaderboard

We noted that not all meetings were for practice management reasons; some for social purposes were conducted on an informal basis for business, relationship and development reasons. Generally, content was less structured, albeit well planned beforehand. The general atmosphere was casual, affording staff the opportunity to speak freely about morale improvement.

General principles

Answering the following questions, based on the general principles of effective meetings, can help make meeting more effective:

Do meetings have a pre-circulated agenda?

This provides a purpose for the meeting, including target outcomes. In some cases outcomes may be clearly defined, or simply provide a guideline to avoid stifling open discussions.

Has a chairman or leader been appointed?

A ‘controller’ needs to focus attendees’ minds on agenda items, encourage open debate where applicable, assign appropriate actions to specific individuals, and watch the clock so items are not deferred or left undecided.

Are desired outcomes or decision options understood?

Where applicable, this ensures participants are aware that a decision is required for certain discussion items and that a consensus or majority opinion, depending on local practice, clearly confirms any decisions.

Are meetings properly time planned and managed?

Allocating adequate time to do justice to each topic, and that the chairman or leader can ensure each item has been afforded reasonable time, helps ensure a meaningful outcome.

What happens to unfinished agenda items?

This denotes items that are diarised to be carried forward to the next meeting.

Is relevant pre-reading circulated?

Where an item warrants it, pre-reading affords attendees an opportunity to prepare and contribute more meaningfully, also demonstrating the thoroughness of the meeting coordinator.

Are self-assessment meeting evaluations conducted?

This is a means by which teams strive to improve meeting quality and outcomes.

Are minutes (including resolutions) and action items documented and distributed?

This provides continuity and implementation of resolutions when minutes are tabled at subsequent meetings. An ongoing record of action items also ensures agreed actions are enacted upon, or diarised for follow up as necessary.


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