Tips to make meetings worth your precious time

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When VPSA advertised its first in-house Physician Leadership Institute workshop entitled Facilitating Meetings, it struck a chord with members and the available spaces quickly filled. Physicians clearly recognize the value of learning to lead meetings that are productive, efficient and useful for all.

“A common complaint of many physicians and physician leaders is the wasted time and energy at meetings,” said the workshop’s facilitator Mary Yates, who participants described as outstanding. “This course focuses on helping leaders making the transition from meeting chair to facilitator.”

Making the leap to facilitative leadership
While traditional leaders tend to be subject matter experts who believe they know all the right answers, the workshop focused on the newer style of facilitative leadership, where the meeting chair is a problem-solving expert who believes the answers lie with the meeting participants. This people-centred approach is especially important for effective teamwork.

“Both traditional and facilitative leadership styles are perfectly acceptable,” said Ms. Yates. “Traditional leadership, for instance, is required in times of crisis. Consider aiming for two-thirds of your meetings being facilitative.”

Workshop participants also learned how to implement strategies for engaging team members by creating a climate of collegiality and trust. They learned to identify key elements for leading productive meetings (in person, teleconferences, and virtual) to help team members stay focused and productive. Other learning objectives included managing disruptive meeting behaviours and differentiating among consensus and other types of team decision making.

“The workshop was fun and full of practical approaches to making meetings more enjoyable and productive,” said family physician Dr. Judith Hammond. “It reinforced for me the importance of planning before meetings in order to get the most out of the valuable time when we do come together. One technique I’ve found particularly useful is providing a Situation, Background, Assessment, Recommendation—or SBAR—briefing note in advance.”

“I found the strategies for empowering each meeting participant and giving them an active role in running the meeting to be especially helpful,” added psychiatrist Dr. Andrea Grabovac.

Top tips
In typical meetings, 10 per cent of the time is spent in planning, 80 per cent in the meeting itself and 10 per cent on follow up. Ms. Yates explained that a much more effective meeting model sees 50 per cent of the time going into planning, only 20 per cent at the meeting itself, with 30 per cent of time spent on follow up.

The following tips are offered as basic ideas to get your meetings running more smoothly and effectively.

• Meetings have three purposes: sharing information; solving problems; and making decisions
• How you run your meeting depends on your goal.
• Make sure you have the right people and they come prepared.
• The magic number for a meeting is between five and nine people. If you have more, it is useful to break into smaller groups.
• Extroverts talk before they think; introverts think before they talk. Design your meeting to create space for introverts to speak.
• Think triage: put the most important items at the top of the agenda.
• Trying to do too much in a meeting sets you up for failure.
• Set a time limit and stick to it.
• Start on time; turn off cell phones.
• The facilitator must pay attention to both process and content.
• Whoever facilitates the meeting is responsible for delegating roles such as recorder, timekeeping and gatekeeping (making sure everyone has an opportunity to participate and that the discussion stays on track).
• Assign as many roles as possible so that leadership is shared.
• Create an environment where people are safe to disagree. It’s better to surface conflicts during the meeting rather than afterwards.
• Use judgement and discretion to balance between structure and freedom.
• The most important meeting outcomes are what agreements are made, what actions arise from these, and the accountability to accomplish these.

“Running an effective meeting is not something they teach in medical school,” said VPSA Engagement Projects Manager Lina Abouzaid. “But feedback from physicians who are leading our engagement projects is that this is a skill they need as they work with colleagues in different divisions and departments. We hope everyone who participated in the workshop gained insights into how to engage committee members and project teammates in a way that makes every meeting count.”

The Facilitating Meetings workshop from the Canadian Medical Association’s Joule provided participants with 6.5 Continuing Professional Development credits and was offered at no cost to VPSA members.

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