The Cure for Ineffective Meetings

by Iris Grimm, The Balanced Physician

Like the common cold, ineffective meetings are frustrating, time-consuming and energy-draining.  They are also preventable.  Ineffective meetings cost healthcare organizations a loss of time, opportunities, human resources, and therefore, a lot of money.

Recently I was invited to observe a physician group meeting to determine how I could help facilitate their meetings more effectively.  Twelve physicians meet twice a month to discuss important matters to their practice. At this meeting, the topic of conversation was the role, performance, and behavior of their physician assistants.

One physician raised the issue by complaining, “my PA comes to the office one minute before 9am and leaves one minute before 5pm. We are very lenient with them, and the PA’s are taking advantage of this.”

The discussion rambled through complaints and random proposed solutions.  After the 45 minute discussion, the physicians departed feeling frustrated having illustrating a problem, but not arriving at a solution or even a plan to get to one.  Not only was this meeting a waste of time, but it left the physicians with a poor way to start their already full day.

Here are 5 ways the meeting could have been more effective.

1. Start the meeting on time.
The meeting was scheduled for 7am, but when I arrived at 6:45, only three physicians were present. At 7:20, the last two physicians arrived, then the meeting began.  As a result, the group was already 20 minutes behind schedule. If you add the 20 minutes that each of the 12 physicians wasted, four hours of time was lost. How much did this cost the organization?

2. Appoint a leader / facilitator.
Without structure, the meeting was chaotic, and full group involvement was limited. Once the lively discussion began, only five physicians were involved. Seven others were physically present, but mentally absent, doing such things as checking blackberries or stepping outside the room to take phone calls. An effective leader could have maintained better order, enforced meeting rules, and encouraged everyone in attendance to share opinions and feedback.

3. Clearly identify the problem and objective for the meeting’s agenda.
After one physician explained a certain difficult situation with his PA’s, another physician mentioned a completely different problem with another PA. Even though they both had different issues with the PA’s, they agreed on a fairly quick solution: cut salaries or fire the PA’s that caused trouble and replace them.  At that moment, the problem wasn’t completely identified, the source of the problem was still unknown, yet an emotionally-charged solution was presented.  Obviously the physicians wanted greater involvement and performance of the PA’s, but no clarity of definition was achieved, much less any plan on how they could facilitate this improvement process.

4. Use all the minds in the meeting to brainstorm the consequences of proposed solutions.
Even with two solutions presented, there was no discussion regarding the ramifications of implementing them.  Good questions for the group to consider could have included: Who guarantees that the problem won’t be repeated with the new employees? What if the problem wasn’t the PA’s, but practice management, leadership, and communication styles? And how much is the turnover going to cost the practice?

5. Create a solution or a proposed path to the solution before the meeting adjourns.
After 45 minutes of discussion, the physicians hadn’t come to a solution. One physician looked at the clock, realized it was time to go, and left. The other physicians followed his lead. Though some were able to express their difficulties, others were aggravated at the wasted time.  Without a plan in place, the next meeting has a good chance of being a similar experience.

Group meetings like these are designed to pinpoint specific issues, identify their underlying source, brainstorm possible solutions, and develop an action plan. With these components in place, meetings are time- and resource-effective management tools that contribute to the health and success of the practice, as well as to the career satisfaction of everyone involved.

Iris Grimm is the creator of the Balanced Physician coaching and training programs designed to improve physicians’ leadership, performance, and work-life balance. She can be reached at 770-428-2334 or at

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