Managing Your Dermatology Practice

How to Run Effective Office Meetings


May 1, 2005

“What do you discuss at office meetings?” a colleague wrote me recently. “We used to hold them monthly, and I never thought we accomplished anything. So now we don't bother anymore.”

It's a comment I hear fairly often. Doctors and employees alike frequently dread staff meetings. Four common complaints about them are: Too much time is spent dwelling on trivia with no time left to address important problems; any important issues that do get covered are seldom if ever resolved; no one acts on any constructive suggestions made; and all too often they degenerate into petty gripe sessions. The problem, though, is not with meetings themselves, but with improper (or complete lack of) planning. Avoiding meetings is not the answer; structuring them effectively is.

First, call meetings only when necessary. No rule says you must have one every month if there are no issues worth meeting about, or that you must wait until the next month if an urgent problem arises. My office manager keeps a list of “meeting topics” contributed by everyone in the office. When she accumulates enough to warrant a meeting (from three to six, depending on their complexity), she calls one.

She then prepares an agenda, ranking the topics of discussion in order of importance, and determines whether the meeting will require attendance by the entire staff or certain subgroups only. I am a firm believer in including at least one “positive” item in every agenda. Most meetings are grim affairs that deal exclusively with problems needing fixing, and that contributes significantly to the hatred most people have for them. Positive items may include recognition of specific professional or personal achievements, displays of photos of new babies or pets, examples of positive patient feedback, etc.

The agenda should be typed and distributed in advance of the meeting to all staff members who will be expected to attend it, to allow them time to prepare questions, comments, and suggestions.

Put the phones on service. Order in lunch if the meeting is at lunchtime, refreshments if not. Start on time. Waiting for latecomers penalizes those who have been courteous enough to be prompt. Stay on time and end on time.