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Meeting With Purpose

Properly structuring your staff meetings will help make them more efficient.

By Lana M. Lombardi, CLU, ChFC, LUTCF

Staff meetings. Do you look at them as a necessary evil? Could they become something on your calendar that you actually look forward to? Sure, if you follow a few guidelines.

Staff meetings get a really bad rap when they are not properly structured. They should offer something of interest to everyone, and they should be a forum for sharing accurate and relevant information that can assist everyone in doing their jobs.

A project perspective
Whether you are a small shop of three or an agency of 20, running an efficient staff meeting takes preparation. Most of us would not consider starting our week or a project without a to-do list or an action plan. Yet, we think nothing of throwing a staff meeting together in 10 minutes and expect a positive response. Instead, if we think of conducting a staff meeting as a short-term project we undertake periodically, then the following suggestions will help us make those meetings more efficient.

Plan ahead
Distribute a general agenda to everyone before the meeting--a few days to a week in advance, depending on the frequency of the meetings. Why should you do this that far in advance? Because it gives staff an opportunity to talk to you about their thoughts on a specific agenda item before the meeting. You may learn that the issue has been resolved or has changed but you have not yet received the updated information.

Think of conducting a staff meeting as a short-term project you undertake periodically.

Keep a journal
Although you are the “creator” of the agenda, you may find it difficult to have fresh and relevant material to discuss at every meeting. The most efficient way to create an interesting and informative agenda is to keep a journal between meetings. When it’s time to set the agenda, you will already have collected information since the last meeting. You can then delegate, in advance , specific topics on the agenda to an agent, the office manager, a customer service specialist or whoever is appropriate.

The responsibility of these people is to prepare for that particular topic and give you their outline before the staff meeting. This keeps them accountable and helps you keep the presentation on track if the presenter begins to wander away from the topic.

There is another subtle reward for keeping a journal: Your employees will begin to notice that you jot down their concerns. This clearly sends the message that you listened to their input, and you care.

At the beginning of each staff meeting, be sure to hand out an updated and detailed agenda to everyone so that they can keep up with the discussions.

Set a time limit
If your office consists of more than one or two positions or departments, each supervisor should have a few minutes to give an update of what's happening in her area of responsibility. This will show everyone how positions and tasks are interrelated. Also, you should give each supervisor a chance to share a challenge she might be experiencing and to ask for assistance in overcoming that challenge.

Keep in mind, however, that no further discussion should take place at this time. Staff who volunteer to help resolve the issue should convene after the staff meeting. Gradually, a spirit of camaraderie will develop among team members who are trying to address these issues.

Less is better
The number of times you hold meetings should be just enough to keep you and your staff informed. You don't want them to become time wasters.

Weekly meetings might be appropriate for big or extremely small operations. It is easy to become isolated in large offices and stay out of touch with the overall vision of the firm. In small operations, staying up to date with the boss becomes tantamount to being able to function daily. People who work in small offices often assume everyone is on the same page because the office is compact. Yet, it is not unusual for small offices to have poor communications. In contrast, some offices, because of their structure, might find monthly or even quarterly meetings appropriate.

To decide how often to hold meetings, start with what you think might work. You can always cut back. If people are still feeling disconnected or uninformed, increase the number of meetings until you find the right balance.

Go forth and meet! But remember: While staff meetings are necessary, their frequency is debatable. Structuring them properly is critical if you want to achieve maximum efficiency.

Lana M. Lombardi, CLU, ChFC, LUTCF, a consultant, speaker and coach, is president of Empowerment Strategies. You can reach her at 304-856-3339 or lanasworkshop@citlink.net.


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