Staff meetings or gripe sessions?

Are your monthly team meetings torture sessions? They don’t have to be. In fact, they should be the most productive, uplifting times you spend every month. Here are some rules to turn your monthly meetings into something good for everyone.

Dear Dianne,

I’ve been a dental hygienist in the same practice for the past 15 years. Our practice has four doctors, six hygienists, six dental assistants, and five business assistants. I really love this practice except for one thing—staff meetings. And it’s not just me. All of us dread staff meetings. There are several reasons, including the fact that nothing ever gets accomplished. These monthly meetings turn into gripe sessions with a bunch of bellyaching and complaining, and sometimes even tears. One doctor does most of the talking, and we all just sit there watching the clock, hoping it will soon be over. The ones who do speak up often get loud and defensive.

At one particularly unpleasant meeting, I couldn’t take it anymore, so I got up and went to the restroom. Later, the office administrator told me that it was rude and disrespectful for me to leave the meeting. I told her that I felt it was rude and disrespectful for management to subject us to these monthly torture sessions.

Can you give us any advice about how our team meetings can be improved?

Frustrated RDH

Dear Frustrated,

It is very unfortunate for you that staff meetings are such a negative force in the practice. Truth be known, the practice would be better off without meetings than to have gatherings that devolve into gripe sessions that staff members dread.

High-quality staff meetings do not happen without careful and thoughtful planning. Good, productive staff meetings can elevate a practice and increase teamwork and camaraderie. Staff members should look forward to staff meetings. The dental practice is a business. Its smooth functioning relies heavily on the employees who do their job well and are interested in the good of the practice.

It sounds to me like the doctor who is doing the most talking is using the “shotgun” approach toward problem-solving. With this method, everyone in the room gets shot whether or not they had any part in the basic problem. This approach never works well for solving problems, and it often creates resentment and hurt feelings, especially if someone feels singled out. I mention this because you commented that tears had flowed in the past. The only tears acceptable in a staff meeting should be tears of joy, such as when a staff member or doctor is honored or celebrated (for example, with a new baby or a retirement). Some problems should be dealt with one-on-one with team members and not in a group setting.

In my experience, the best and most productive staff meetings are “horizontal” meetings. This is where the CEO sets the parameters, but each member of the group is equally valued and called upon to share ideas, input, and concerns. This method is preferred because it encourages teamwork.

Here are some rules for staff meetings:

• Staff meetings should always be held on office time.

• A one-hour meeting at the beginning of the month is suggested.

• An agenda should be posted in the lab or lounge at least 24 hours prior to the meeting for staff and doctor(s) to note ideas or concerns.

• The meeting should not always be led by the same person. Staff and doctor(s) should take turns leading the meeting.

• Staff meetings should never become gripe sessions. If someone presents a problem, that person should be prepared to offer a solution.

There are a number of barriers to productive staff meetings, and it is likely that one or several of the following barriers are responsible for the dysfunctional team meetings in your office.

Lack of preparation—Not having a specific agenda for the meeting will generate nonproductive meetings.

Lack of a purpose or goal—The leader should be clear in his or her own mind about what the meeting is supposed to accomplish.

Lack of participation—If no one says anything, the staff meeting turns into a lecture.

Lack of acceptance—“That’s a crazy idea! I can’t believe you even suggested that.” One of the fastest ways to squelch openness in staff meetings is to put someone down for his or her idea.

Lack of time management—Always running late and not starting on time show a lack of priority.

Lack of staff organization—When no one is in charge, meetings tend to become unfocused, and participants ramble from one subject to another.

Lack of leadership—The practice will reflect the personality and leadership of the doctor.

Lack of staff support—If staff members come to the meeting feeling resentful, they will not participate in a productive way.

Lack of communication—When lines of communication are not open among the team members, meaningful communication is difficult.

I’ve listed below a few recommended topics for each team member.

Doctor

• Last month’s production compared with last year’s, same month

• Last month’s collections compared with last year’s, same month

• Average dollars per day produced and collected (Add monthly production and collections. Divide by two. Divide by the number of days worked.)

Appointment coordinator

• Total number of patients seen last month

• Number of new patients last month

• Number of emergency patients

• Number of broken or changed appointments

Dental assistants

• Dental supply percentage (Total amount spent on dental supplies last month divided by collections for the month should be 5%–7% of gross collections.)

• Number of crown-and-bridge units prepared last month compared to last year, same month

Hygiene department

• Number of hygiene days last month

• Average number of patients seen per day in hygiene

• Average dollars per day produced last month by the hygiene department

• Number of broken appointments or units of wasted chair time

Financial coordinator

• Accounts receivable update

• Any dental insurance updates

• Number of delinquent account calls made

• Amount collected as a result of those calls

The agenda will include old business, including evaluation of already-initiated projects and systems evaluation. New business items may be added after the discussion of old business is completed. Any agenda items that are not discussed during the process of a regular meeting should be moved to the agenda for the next meeting and placed in a position of priority. This way, everyone knows that their concern is valued and will be covered.

Every effort should be exerted to make staff meetings upbeat and informative. No idea is discounted, and brainstorming results in some wonderful plans for action.

Staff meetings do not always have to be all business. At least twice yearly, the group should go out and share a meal together. On these days, cover only the vital statistics; i.e., last month’s production, collections, total new patients, and total broken appointments. Allow your agenda to be a time of fellowship.

It sounds like your lead doctor needs some direction in planning a productive staff meeting. Chances are good that the doctor dreads the meetings as much as you do. However, well-organized team meetings can be some of the most productive time spent in the practice. Good staff meetings can help to focus everyone, clarify office policies, and improve patient service. Feel free to print out this article and share it with your doctor.

All the best,

DIANNE GLASSCOE WATTERSON, MBA, RDH, is a consultant, speaker, and author. She helps good practices become better through practical analysis and teleconsulting. Visit her website at wattersonspeaks.com. For consulting or speaking inquiries, contact Watterson at diannemba@gmail.com or call (336) 472-3515.

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