All Content

Master Meetings


Meetings are a fact of life. They play an integral role in how our departments, committees, and hospitals make decisions, implement new projects and processes, convey information, and, unfortunately, take up our precious time.

Perhaps you’ve been thrust into the role of leading meetings—as the head of a quality initiative task force, or as facilitator of a brainstorming session on a quality of care issue—or maybe you’re just beginning to face that possibility. How can you hone your skills to ensure that your meetings are on track, fulfill their goals, and waste as little time as possible?

Resource for Meeting Leaders

Dr. Holman strongly recommends the article “How to Run a Meeting” by Antony Jay, which originally appeared in the March/April 1976 issue of Harvard Business Review and is now available in the book Harvard Business Review on Effective Communication (Harvard Business School Press, 1999).—JJ

Once you start using structure, you don’t have to manipulate the meeting; people will simply follow the structure.

—Roger Schenke

Common Pitfalls of Leading a Meeting

In his years of observing meetings, Dr. Holman has identified the following problem areas that meeting leaders run into:

  1. The meeting leader does not have a clear goal or purpose for the meeting or initiative. You should outline your goal at the first meeting.
  2. The leader does not make each participant’s role in the group clear. Everyone should know what everyone else is bringing to the table.
  3. The leader becomes a barrier, either by pursuing a personal agenda or because of lack of facilitation or organizational skills.
  4. The group is the wrong size. Ideal group size is five to 10 people; too many in a group, and people don’t have a chance to voice their concerns. When there are too few members, you can miss out on essential expertise to get things done.
  5. There are no ground rules. These should include rules of courtesy and behavior, such as “all team members will speak freely and in turn” and “silence equals agreement.”
  6. The meeting suffers from a lack of organizational planning. The group needs an agenda and supporting materials approximately three days in advance. Follow up the meeting by sending out a meeting summary that includes action items with responsible parties identified.—JJ

Watch and Learn

Russell L. Holman, MD, senior vice president and national medical director, Cogent Healthcare, and president-elect, SHM, put a lot of effort into mastering his meeting leadership skills, beginning early in his career. “I was working in an organization that was meeting-rich,” recalls Dr. Holman. “It was important to me to learn that way of getting things done.”

He began with the simple act of watching how others led meetings, noting what some did right and others did wrong. “A lot of my work has been through observation, and through seeking out mentoring,” he says. It helps to have spent time sitting in many meetings before you become a leader. “You can see how things are done. When you observe someone who does well at leading a meeting, ask to sit down with them and ask how they set out to accomplish the goal of the meeting.”

Learn as You Go

As a hospitalist, you are likely to assume the role of meeting leader. You can then concentrate on refining your skills with each meeting. “Seek feedback of the senior people participating, as well as general participants,” suggests Dr. Holman. “Do a bit of analysis if there were conflicts in the meeting, or if you feel the group is not making progress.”

Tip: If you’re a clinical hospitalist without hierarchical authority and have been asked to lead a project or task force, use Dr. Holman’s “transfer of authority” method. Ask someone with recognizable importance, such as the hospital CEO or a department chair, to stop in your group’s first meeting for a few minutes. While they are there, they should offer their resources for any necessary support, and voice their confidence in you as the leader and in the group in general. This simple visit will transfer their authority to you as the group leader.

Structure Is Key

Roger Schenke, executive vice president of the American College of Physician Executives (ACPE), believes that when the right structure is imposed any meeting is easy to run—without personality conflicts or wasted time. Schenke, who teaches an introductory ACPE course on management that includes a section on meetings, explains, “A structure approach [to meetings] takes proven techniques and superimposes them on any group. Once you start using structure, you don’t have to manipulate the meeting; people will simply follow the structure. They’ll feel that they’re part of a process.”

Schenke outlines an ideal meeting scenario, which can take place as a single, long meeting within a pre-set room, or be broken into separate, sequential meetings:

  1. Briefing. This should last no more than 30 minutes. A single speaker or a select panel provides information to participants and then allows questions. “Everyone knows the rules for this type of meeting,” adds Schenke.
  2. Problem-solving or problem-identification meeting. “The room should be set up with small tables and a flip chart for each. Small groups are assigned a specific task,” says Schenke, such as solving the hospital’s nursing shortage. A committee or task force should be broken into small groups so “you can’t go above seven people when you want people to interact,” says Schenke. “Above that, and little subgroups and factions form.”
  3. Parliamentary meetings should take place at a conference table. “Everyone eligible to mandate policy hears recommendations from other groups, such as the problem-solving groups,” says Schenke.

Obviously, each of these meetings has a unique structure with a unique room setting. “Structure determines or controls behavior,” says Schenke. “When people are put in these situations, they understand the rules. The key is not preparation; all it takes is letting the group know the purpose of the meeting.”

Practice, Practice, Practice

There are many theories and styles regarding running successful meetings, and you’ll find a wealth of information on how to become a better meeting leader. Just as meetings are a fact of life, it’s also true that you can improve your facilitation skills with each new meeting you lead. TH

Jane Jerrard writes “Career Management” monthly for The Hospitalist.

Next Article:

   Comments ()