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How to Lead Effective Meetings

By Barbara Schmidtman, PhD

February 22, 2023
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In her monthly leadership series, Dr. Barbara Schmidtman—vice president of cancer health operations at Corewell Health West—offers her perspective on addressing workforce-related issues through effective leadership practices. Find all her posts in this blog series on the ACCC website.

Let’s face it, we have all been in a meeting where it was hard to stay engaged or know what the purpose of it was. In the virtual world in which we now operate, it is much easier to meet with one another from long distances or throw a meeting on the calendar that might have been better suited for an email. As we continue to understand the long-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and what relationship it has on staff burnout, there is no time better than the present to find ways in which we can cherish our—and our colleagues’—time more and maximize efficiency when meeting together. My hope for this blog is to provide a few simple reminders on how to better engage in and run more effective meetings. 

1. Email the Agenda in Advance

Prior to the date of a meeting (big or small), it is helpful to send an agenda out to all participants in advance. This will help keep everyone on track and focused during the meeting. It is often helpful to set time limits for each topic and do not be afraid to stop an ongoing conversation when this limit is reached. For conversations that might need to be reconvened at a later time, ask the individuals to take it offline—either in another meeting or an email.

What are our goals and objectives?

Sometimes, it is difficult to know what agenda items may be relevant to a meeting. I always like to think of five “Ws”—who, what, when, where, and why. Who will this topic impact? Make sure the audience in attendance is complete. What is the topic of the discussion? What will the impact be? Where will the meeting take place? Why is this meeting important or why do we need to do this? Finally, the when—what are our timelines for key deliverables? Many times, there may need to be a follow-up meeting to ensure that action items and key deliverables are moving forward or that barriers to movement are being addressed. 

2. Always Be professional

One of the biggest things that we have lost through virtual meetings is the ability to read body language. People can now join and attend meetings with their camera off, while only being sort of present and having side-chat conversations, just to name a few nuances of virtual meeting platforms. Even when our cameras are on, it is easy to get pulled into multitasking during a meeting, making it apparent that one may or may not be fully engaged in the conversation. To conduct effective meetings, it’s important that leaders help meeting participants engage in the content and be professional. I have heard multiple ways in which people keep participants engaged in their meetings. One way is to make sure you assign certain participants to various topics when sending out the agenda. This will keep them focused and attentive to the discussion. Another fun way to keep people engaged, and probably most appropriate for teams who meet more frequently, is to start off the meeting with something lighthearted like an icebreaker. This can help those in the meeting also get to know each other a little bit better.

Try to arrive to the meeting early—the virtual space has made this more complicated. Despite the importance of showing up early, it is also important to ensure time is baked in between meetings to allow for a quick drink of water, small snack, or bio-break. Failing to allow ourselves the time to hydrate or energize can leave us feeling depleted and contribute to being unwell and feeling burned out.

But be attuned to individuals’ needs. 

While it is wonderful to be on camera to see each other’s reactions and body language, there are days that some individuals need to be off camera. This could be while they are driving, eating lunch, or any other reasons. I think it is always best to give grace and be understanding when your team members need a day off camera.

3. Ultimately, a Meeting vs. an Email

Why do we set up a meeting, rather than just sending out an email? I would speculate that sometimes we do this because we need an answer, and we don’t have faith the individual will respond in a timely fashion. There could be several other reasons, too. What is important to remember is that before scheduling a meeting, ask yourself if your intention can be addressed more effectively in an email.

Some simple tips—that many of us may already do—when sending an email is to send it marked it as urgent. Or if you really believe a meeting will help expedite the work, only schedule for the time that you know you will need. If the conversation will take five minutes, then schedule the meeting for five minutes. Further, if using software like Microsoft Teams, you could call your colleague directly to get your answer quickly. Or, if you can send an email, indicate your need in the subject line (e.g., “NEED RESPONSE by 1:00 PM,” etc.).

Although these tips are not all the strategies you can use to ensure you are running effective meetings, they are a few quick reminders to help you maximize your time, while also taking care of ourselves and respecting others’ time. 

Barbara Schmidtman, PhD, has worked in healthcare for more than 20 years in a variety of professional and clinical roles. Currently, she is the vice president of cancer health operations at Corewell Health West in Grand Rapids, Mich. Dr. Schmidtman is the Chair of the ACCC Governmental Affairs Committee and the Workforce Subcommittee Chair, a subgroup of the association's Governmental Affairs Committee. Dr. Schmidtman earned her PhD in business administration from Northcentral University, where she specialized in industrial organizational psychology. Her doctoral studies focused on physician behaviors and how demonstrated physician leadership affects individuals and teams—either positively or negatively. Dr. Schmidtman has a passion for speaking locally and nationally on leadership styles and approaches. 

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