Don’t be the dreaded team leader who can’t facilitate a productive meeting! No one wants to hear staff groan and grumble that they’re going to yet another useless meeting.  Before coming into my term as president of the Society of Dermatology Physican Assistants, I spent quite a bit of time researching how to run a productive meeting. I’d like to share some of the pearls I’ve cultivated:

  • Set a meeting agenda, and send it to attendees ahead of time.  This will allow the staff to think about the topics and bring thoughts to share with the group. For example, if you plan on going over how to properly label specimen jars, it may be helpful if you have an employee who does this well bring a properly labeled jar as an example. Also, give attendees the opportunity to add agenda items that they would like to discuss.  This will encourage them to buy into the meeting and will help you identify topics that need to be covered.
  • Pay special attention to organization. Make sure topics that take more time are not left until the end in case the meeting gets cut short, and try grouping topics together to avoid repeating similar facts. Also, alternating speakers may help cut back time wasted shuffling around papers when switching topics.
  • Set a realistic time frame. When a meeting goes into overtime people squirm in their seats, get frustrated, and ultimately tune out. Look at your agenda and do your best to determine how long the meeting should be. But remember that no one is perfect; some meetings will just run long.
  • Keep the meeting on track. Identifying when the discussion has gone off base and learning how to bring it back is the best way to prevent meetings from running long. If you determine that a problem can’t  be solved suggest that it be discussed at another time, and schedule the appropriate follow-up. For example, if your group is engaged in an endless debate about what policy should be in place for missed appointments, assign a point person to research the topic and determine what are other practices are doing. This person should be responsible for drafting a policy and e-mailing it to the group for review. Then at the next meeting, revisit the topic and come to a final decision. 
  • Learn how to handle difficult personalities. Quiet down the talkers by asking them to summarize their thoughts in one sentence and the nay sayers by asking them to look at the topic from a positive angle; use body language to deter interrupters. If that doesn’t work, simply ask everyone not to interrupt other speakers out of respect for the group and to wait instead for their turn on the floor .
  • Consider inviting the occasional outside speaker to talk about topics such as dealing with difficult patients, improving customer service skills and a variety of other clinical topics. A clinician can go over the six most common diagnoses you see in the office to help the staff better understand what your patients are going through, and how to best interact with them. Once yearly personal enrichment lectures may also appeal to staff. Potential topics can include how to develop a budget, how to plan for retirement and even meditation.  For professional groups, bringing in speakers to talk about leadership, team dynamics and public speaking are often big hits. 

In the end, a meeting can be a productive time to share information and create a team atmosphere.  But if it’s not facilitated well, a meeting can be seen as a total waste of time and negatively impact your reputation in the group.  Use the above skills to become someone that your colleagues expect to run an effective and engaging meeting.