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Practice Management: The Value of Staff Meetings

By Joel C. Small, DDS, MBA, ACC, FICD
Board Certified Coach

I am always amazed by the number of healthcare practices that fail to have regularly scheduled staff meetings.

When the doctors are questioned about this practice, they will usually use the excuse that they are too busy for regularly scheduled meetings or they have tried staff meetings in the past, but they proved to be of little value. Hearing these excuses reminds me of the story of the lumberjack that was so busy chopping down trees that he never took the time to sharpen his ax, and yet he couldn’t understand why he was becoming less and less productive over time.

Regularly scheduled staff meetings are essential because they provide doctors and staff with the following:

  • Clarity: Studies have shown that clarity is a universal ingredient of all successful businesses. Clarity means that each team member has a crystal-clear understanding of their organization’s values and purpose, their own individual responsibilities, and their role in supporting and creating an optimal working environment. The doctors gain clarity, as well, by listening and helping solve problems that the staff places on the meeting agenda. My personal experience is that I am often unaware of certain problems that the staff is trying to resolve.
  • Unity: A staff meeting is a perfect time to acknowledge the importance of team unity. As an example, one of my clients had a wonderful experience at a recent staff meeting that I would like to share. After a day that was particularly stressful and poorly orchestrated, my client asked his staff to consider what they, as a team, could have done better to improve the day. At my suggestion, he stopped there and remained silent. There followed what seemed like a minute or two of silence until finally, one of the clinical assistants came up with a suggestion. This led to other comments and soon the entire team was engaged in the discussion. The front office was collaborating with the clinical staff and making thoughtful suggestions that would prove useful in the future.  By the end of the meeting, the doctor had hardly spoken and the staff not only solved numerous problems, but gained a very real sense of unity. None of this could have occurred if the doctor had not scheduled the time for the team to “sharpen their ax.”
  • Relevance: Just the act of scheduling regular staff meetings tells the staff that the doctor values them and considers them relevant to the practices success. They understand that the doctor is giving up potential production to have this meeting. I would suggest that staff meeting time be considered sacred time that is never cancelled except in dire emergencies; otherwise the message to the staff is that the doctor does not place a high priority on these meetings. The implication being that the doctor does not value the staff’s input. By collaborating with our staff in solving problems at staff meetings, we exemplify optimal teamwork and provide our staff with a sense of relevance.

One final word about staff meetings. As important as I believe them to be, they are even more important in times of change. Generally, there is a direct relationship between the degree of change a practice is experiencing and the frequency of necessary staff meetings. For example, if a practice is bringing on a new associate or has recently experienced significant staff turnover, staff meetings should be held more often. This is also true when switching practice software.

These are all examples of “high stress” change that can often temporarily derail even the best practices. In these situations, it is essential to meet regularly to utilize collaborative, problem-solving techniques to defuse current and potential future problems that accompany change. This is also the perfect time for the doctor to exhibit his or her leadership by letting the staff know that they acknowledge these issues and their frustration and that they have the staff’s back. This reassurance is just the right medicine at this critical time.