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Creating “worthwhile” staff meetings

Cohen, Shelley MSN, RN, CEN

doi: 10.1097/01.NUMA.0000432227.91702.3d
Department: Manager Matters

Shelley Cohen is a consultant and founder of Health Resources Unlimited, LLC in Hohenwald, Tenn.

The author has disclosed that she has no financial relationships related to this article.

While driving into work, all Hank can think about are the two staff meetings he has scheduled for today with his staff. He recalls how unproductive the last two meetings were and he wonders if he should show up wearing a pair of boxing gloves. Previous staff meetings left him feeling drained and exhausted as though he had gone three rounds in a boxing ring. Trying to think about all that went wrong, he realizes something needs to change.



Pulling into the employee parking lot, Hank runs into Sara Beth, the obstetric nurse manager. She always seems so together at manager meetings and he's overheard his own staff talk about how great she is. With nothing to lose, he greets her and inquires if she has any tips for successful staff meetings. Two cups of coffee later and a notepad full of ideas and suggestions, Hank heads to his office to develop a plan to share with his staff. This plan will not only engage staff members during meetings, but will also leave them feeling that the meetings are time well spent.

Hank learned the following principles related to staff meetings:

  • At a staff meeting, the staff members should be doing most of the talking; after all it's their meeting, not the manager's. The manager should be in the background of collaborations as the person providing resources and details, validating policy, and so on.
  • Respect the time of others by not using the meeting to read memos and other written documentation or forms. Use a communication book or e-mail for these.
  • Without ground rules, it's difficult to maintain a healthy environment for discussion and problem solving.
  • The manager should be punctual and well-prepared for the meeting.
  • Teach staff how to utilize nominal group technique (NGT). NGT provides a framework of steps taken that guide staff from brainstorming how to resolve issues and concerns to group decision making.
  • Don't wait for regularly scheduled staff meetings to obtain feedback and communicate.
  • Take advantage of informal huddle type connections and delegate authority for others to listen to staff feedback and report back to you.
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The blueprints

Hank now realizes that he needs to involve the staff more in the actual agenda and running of the meetings. In addition, he needs to reframe his perception of the purpose of staff meetings. Many workplace norms have developed over the years that interfere with effective meetings. Hank needs to be able to answer the following key questions:

  • What do I want these staff meetings to accomplish?
  • Have I considered organizational policy regarding mandatory attendance of staff?
  • What were the qualities of other meetings I've attended that made me feel as though my time was well spent?
  • Do I really know what the staff want and need regarding meeting purpose and content?

As a new nurse manager, Hank finds himself in a position not unlike other new managers where expectations are high and resources to develop management style and skill are low or nonexistent. Sara Beth really surprised him when she shared that he doesn't need to search for complex techniques to improve his meetings. She taught him that he needs to engage the staff more in the meeting process and agenda and to stop trying to control it himself.

Feeling that it's too late to make changes for today's meetings, Hank is overwhelmed and has an urge to cancel the meetings until he can develop his plan. However, with the help of Sara Beth, he's able to outline a workable plan for the upcoming meetings:

  • Share with staff that you recognize the current meeting process, content, and structure isn't effective, nor is it a good use of anyone's time.
  • Acknowledge that you didn't recognize the value and importance of staff feedback and input.
  • Use an overhead projector or slide display to share your plan and provide material to distribute to staff.
  • Educate staff about the importance of understanding the key elements of a successful meeting.
  • Ask for staff input regarding:
    • – meeting dates/times
    • – meeting locations
    • – where to post/circulate pending agendas
    • – sharing the roles of recorder and time keeper.
  • Engage staff in developing the agenda.

Although Sara Beth identified engaging staff in the agenda content, in her limited time with Hank she neglected to mention the relevance of the delivery. Sometimes a leader feels he or she already knows what staff members want to hear or learn about.

Authors Jen Su and Wilkins reflect “the communication portion of employee engagement is in the tank.”1 They reveal through employee feedback what really matters if you want effective meeting communication:

  • You, as the leader, have to present content in a manner that allows employees to see the benefit for themselves, as well as for the organization. The last thing you want is staff members to leave a meeting with a fear of the unknown or stress about the stability of their jobs.1,2

A manager's example: Today as you discuss how, as a team, you want to implement this new policy, I want to be sure that licensed staff recognize the value this change holds in supporting our license as it reflects changes in scope of practice. The organization and patients will benefit because the change has proven to decrease medication errors. Let's get started so I can hear your ideas on what our first steps should be.

  • Make a personal connection during the meeting.1,2

A manager's example: Before Angie gets us on track with the agenda, I'd like to send a big shout out to this weekend's night shift. Anytime one of our own employees gets admitted, it challenges our ability to ensure their privacy. The staff really stepped up to ensure this employee's medical records and visitor requests were protected.

  • Consider other leaders whom the staff can benefit from meeting.1,2

A manager's example: You'll notice on our meeting agenda that I've invited David Johnson, our CFO, to share information about the budget changes that will impact our department beginning July 1st. He's the best person to answer your specific financial questions and I appreciate him making time to be with us.

  • Frequent and consistent effective meetings make the difference. Employees want to hear from their leaders more frequently and on a consistent basis. These interactions don't have to be formal or in-person because intertwining other types of connections can prove effective.1,2

A manager's example: I'm sensing from staff feedback that I need to do a better job being visible and available to you, as well as provide more frequent communication. Beginning next month, I'm going to try some new things and, based on your feedback, will tweak things from there.

Weekly: E-mail summary of important events, changes.

Quarterly: Departmental, in-person staff meetings.

In the building: When I'm in the building, I'll make an effort to walk through the department more often and for longer periods of time.

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The final layout

Hank now realizes that what he thought he knew and understood about employee meetings was holding him back from being effective. Although he felt he didn't have time to prepare an overhaul of the meeting process for that day, he did share with the staff his awareness that the staff meeting process needed improvement. He was able to recall the NGT process and tapped into that resource as the main focus of the meeting.

Hank used this technique to seek feedback from staff members regarding their perceptions of what type of content is appropriate and important for their staff meetings. He explained these steps to the staff so at their subsequent meetings they could initiate this process without his guidance. Recalling Sara Beth's emphasis on engaging staff, Hank's meeting played out as follows.

After explaining the concept of NGT, each staff member was handed a piece of paper. He asked each staff member to write the top three items he or she feels should be included in their meetings. Hank asked for a volunteer to write the responses on the white board in the meeting room and another staff member agreed to read the responses aloud. A third staff member tallied the responses.

From the results of this process, Hank and the staff recognized that the top three content topics ranked as most appropriate and important for their staff meetings were (1) most talked about issue of the month, (2) interdepartmental issues, and (3) staff retention problems.

Clearly this process becomes a true reality check for the leader and the team. Hank reassured staff that additional items after the top three wouldn't be ignored, but that the group needed a starting point and he felt three items would be more manageable in the beginning.

As each of the most commonly noted items were read out loud, Hank asked for one or two examples from the staff that validated the concern. He could literally see staff members change their approach toward participating in the meeting and the more he turned the control over to them, the more engaged they became.

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A future focused on staff

That parking lot conversation with Sara Beth made Hank realize the value of tapping into his own peer group to guide him along his journey of leadership development. It also reminded him that he can no longer assume his current leadership styles and practices are effective. Hank's confidence soared at the conclusion of the staff meeting when one of the team members mentioned “now, that was worth coming in for.”

Hank realized coaching and guiding the team through its top three issues on the upcoming meeting agenda needed to be a priority for him. Although taking a back seat and allowing staff to be the greater voice at the meeting will be a new and challenging concept for him, Hank recognizes the value this practice holds. Hank also made a note in his day timer to invite Sara Beth to lunch to see if she would be interested in mentoring him.

Reaching out for each and every opportunity that expands your knowledge as a leader will transform your opportunities for success. In turn, improving your staff meeting processes and staff engagement will transform staff members' job satisfaction and this, we know, improves the quality of care for each and every patient.

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1. Jen Su A, Wilkins MM. The perils of all-employee meetings.
2. Heifetz J. How to get people to look forward to your meetings. In: Harvard Business Review, ed. Guide to Making Every Meeting Matter. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press; 2011.
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