A veterinary team member writes:
I work in a practice that I know has great potential; however, there are people who work there who deliberately find any reasons they can to oppose change.They don’t even try to implement the changes. We’ve held a number of meetings, but they have no agenda and there are never any outcomes. I don’t know how to approach this issue.
I’m not sure what your role in the practice is, but I’m going to assume you’re not the practice owner or manager. I say this because it sounds like at the moment you don’t have much say in how the team meetings are run.
So, assuming you’re an associate or a vet tech, give yourself a pat on the back for wanting to make a positive change in your practice! This may actually be a great opportunity for you to step up and take an active role in practice management. You could even offer to run team meetings; that’s a great place to start.
I suggest you approach the practice owner or manager and say something along the lines of, “I think our practice has a lot of potential. There are a few areas specifically I think we can work on and, with your permission, I’d like to start holding team meetings. I know you’re busy and they do take a bit of planning, but I’d be really keen to take this on.”
Present some ideas of how you would run a team meeting for maximum impact. Showing that you are prepared and willing to take this on will go a long way to convincing your owner or manager that you can handle the responsibility.
Here are a few pointers for running effective team meeting in your veterinary practice:
Make It a Regular Thing
I speak to many practice managers who say it’s impossible to hold regular team meetings due to the unpredictable nature of workload in a veterinary practice. Not true. Sure, they can get railroaded at times, but I’ve seen dozens of practices effectively run team meetings on a regular basis.
Once per week is good. Sounds too frequent? Just trust me on this — if you miss a meeting one week, the next meeting is only 7 days away. On the other hand, if you schedule a monthly meeting and your caseload on the day prevents you from holding it, 4 weeks is too long to wait until the next one.
Pick two days and times of the week when the practice is typically less busy and alternate between them. Alternating meeting days will ensure that the same people don’t miss out every week. Schedule the meetings months in advance in your appointment calendar, and block out 1.5 hours for a meeting each week. The meeting won’t last the entire 1.5 hours, but taking into account appointments and surgeries running over time, people getting their lunch ready, etc., you should get at least 45 minutes of quality meeting time.
One of the reasons why you want to schedule the meetings well in advance in the appointment diary is so you can minimize your surgical load on those days. Get the day’s surgeries done and out of the way before the meeting starts.
If you can, divert your phones to a recorded message that lets your clients know you are in a team-training session. To ensure you are still seeing emergencies, provide a cell number clients can call if they have an emergency.
Place a bell and sign at the front desk that notifies any walk-ins you are a team training session, and ask them to kindly ring the bell for attention.
If you’re not going to divert phones during the meeting, rotate who answers the phone, so the same person isn't always missing the meeting. What’s the worst that can happen? A veterinarian answers the phone?
Involve the Entire Team in Setting the Agenda
You can use a whiteboard for this, or a file accessible on every workstation in the practice. If you use Slack or a similar program, create a channel titled “Meeting Agenda.’
Throughout the week, anyone in the practice, from kennel hand to practice owner, can contribute to the agenda for the next meeting. Just have them write down what they want to discuss and initial it. It’s important that their initials are next to the agenda item. Here’s why: if you see something on the agenda that isn’t appropriate for the meeting, or has already been resolved, you can see who wrote it and approach them directly prior to the meeting.
Take Meeting Minutes
Taking meeting minutes is important for three reasons:
- It involves another team member in the meeting. Rotate this responsibility; again, involve everyone from the kennel hand to the practice owner. If they can write, they can take meeting minutes.
- It keeps team members who are absent in the loop. Type the meeting minutes and send them to the entire team, or post them in the staff room. You can even ask people to initial that they have read them.
- You can refer back to them later. For example, if a team member is not doing something that was agreed in the team meeting, you can remind them what was discussed. Also, people forget what was discussed and agreed, so it helps if anyone can re-read the meeting minutes.
Some points about meeting minutes: if you are rotating your scribe for the meeting, it helps to use a template. It should have the following headings: topic; discussion; action; who is responsible; due date. Keeping record of who is responsible for completing the action item and the due date keeps people accountable. No one wants to sit in a meeting in front of their colleagues and say they haven’t done something they said they were going to do.
Review Action Items from Previous Meeting
This should be the first thing you do. Have your previous meeting minutes in front of you, and read out any action items that were agreed upon. For example, “Sarah, you said you were going to find out if we can place an order for XYZ for Mrs. Smith.”
This is when Sarah jumps in and says “Yes, I did that. I have ordered XYZ and notified Mrs. Smith it’s here”. Great, move on.
If an action item hasn’t been completed, that’s OK. It happens, and you don’t make a big deal of it in front of everyone. Carry it over to the next meeting. But don’t forget about it; you have to hold people accountable.
Limit Housekeeping Discussion
You’ll find that most of the items your team has put on the agenda relate to housekeeping issues, such as “please don’t leave dirty cups in the sink.” Boring.
No one wants to talk for an hour every week about dirty dishes or hear you go through a list of things they are doing wrong. I like to get housekeeping out of the way first, and spend no more than 10 minutes on it. The shorter the better.
You don’t want your team to dread coming to weekly meetings. Have fun. There are lots of ways you can do this; for example, by holding a quick ice-breaker exercise, or even playing a team-bonding game.
Include a Training Topic
This doesn’t have to be long —15 minutes is fine. Ask a veterinarian to prepare a topic and present on it. Or do a mock client call and role play. I like to ask others to hold training topics for a couple of reasons:
- I’m not the only one talking during the meeting. People get sick of my voice.
- I don’t know everything
- It makes others feel important and included.
Let Others Speak
See above. Letting others speak doesn’t mean only during the training sessions. As the meeting facilitator, it’s your job to ensure everyone has an opportunity to speak. This sounds easy, but have you ever been in a meeting where one loud, confident person won’t let anyone else get a word in? You have to manage that. So, how do you do it? This is a whole topic in itself. I answered this question from a practice manager who had a vet disrupting team meetings.
So, just how important is it to run effective team meetings? Look at it this way: I’ve never seen a successful practice NOT run great team meetings. In your situation, where you have a number of people resistant to change and no team meetings or poorly run team meetings, I think effective team meetings will be the first step to accepting change. The team members resistant to change will be outnumbered and out-debated by positive team members who have great ideas and are taking action to implement them. Your template for running effective team meetings will provide the environment for this change to occur.
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