Unfortunately, we have all been there. Struggling to stay awake, wiggling in our seats, mind drifting off to the tasks we should be doing yet trying to look interested just in case the boss looks our way. We are enduring another poorly planned staff meeting. It doesn’t have to be this way!
Staff meetings should be enjoyable, engaging, and motivating. Planning appropriately is all it takes.

True confessions. Many managers or practice owners give about 10 to 15 minutes of thought to routine team meetings. They have something to fuss about so they call a meeting. One of my students when asked if the practice held staff meetings said,” Yes, they call us in, yell at us and then send us back to work.” This was the saddest comment because it shows how poorly trained managers are unknowingly tearing down the culture of their practice.

We see time and time again how our team members are leaving because they are not utilized and how they feel they live in a toxic culture of fault-finding. Team meetings are a “bringing together” of your bright minds to work on the needs and Mission of the practice. Those minds can’t help you problem solve if they only get 5 minutes to consider the issues.

The first step in creating a great team meeting is setting an agenda and then sharing it with the team.

This should be posted at least a week in advance so everyone can have time to ponder the content and be prepared to share their ideas. Setting meeting times that are fair for all is equally important. If you hold team meetings every 2nd Thursday and my day off is Thursday then that is not fair.

In my last practice as the COO, I posted the team meeting dates for the entire year in January and rotated the days of the week for each month. January’s meeting was held on a Tuesday, February’s on Wednesday and March’s on Thursday, and so on for the entire year. With large teams, you may want to split all the departments and have them meet together routinely instead of gathering the entire team.

Again, with my last position in a practice, we had a very large staff so we had CSR, Techs and Assistants, DVMs, and Kennel team meetings. The leads of each department attended all the department meetings so the interconnection of the work was acknowledged and glitches between departments could be solved. Twice a year we held an all-team meeting to give a “state of the Practice” address and to have small breakout workshops where representatives of each department worked in groups to solve a problem with workflow, communication or patient care.

It is never a bad idea to have your Mission statement read at the beginning of each meeting. Having it fresh and top of mind serves as a North Star for goal-setting and problem-solving work.

Meeting agendas done well have a framework. They:

  • Share Good Stuff – Using Storytelling and Spotlighting the Team
  • Discuss Issues – Problem Solve
  • Learn Something New
  • Set Measurable Goals


Notice that the first part of our agenda in my framework says, to share good stuff storytelling, and highlighting. What exactly does that entail?

Human beings tend to focus on negativity and to be self-absorbed. There is a universal “front versus back “issue in veterinary medicine because everyone thinks their work is harder than the other person’s. This is why I love cross-training. It is a wonderful reality check. But when we begin storytelling, we realize that multiple people have a role in all our successful outcomes.

During meetings is it always fun to share a story of triumph. Usually, it begins with an astute CSR knowing the case is urgent and convincing the client to make haste to come. Then the technicians and assistants quickly triage the patient and anticipate the doctors’ orders before they are even shared. The doctor orchestrates the care plan, the techs carry out the nursing care, and the kennel attendants, or, as I like to call them, “pet hospitality” make sure the pet is comfortable, walked, fed, and clean. The manager can even work to make a payment plan and help the medical team communicate with the client. Acknowledging each other’s skills, talents, hard work and WINS is a great way to jump-start an engaging experience.

The next step – Spotlighting, involves choosing a team member or two to shine a light on by asking simple questions like “where did you go to High School”, “What is your favorite flavor of ice cream”, and “what was your greatest thrill in vet med?”. Often we work together but we rarely get to know each other as humans with outside interests and passions. Seeing one another as a person helps build stronger bonds and enables us to better work together. Spotlighting helps build relationships through connection points.

For example, we both love Rocky Road ice cream. I also love having team members draw a random name and state what they admire about this person on their team. This works well on a more established team. Never forget that authentic recognition is one of the keys to team member retention.

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Step Two – Issues

Even the most well-run practice has glitches. They are managed and staffed by humans and humans make mistakes.

Often inexperienced practice managers, rather than confronting individuals, will mention mistakes in team meetings and admonish the staff for these errors. This is one sure way to disengage your staff. The people who performed well know that they did not make these mistakes and therefore tune out. The people who did make the mistake assume that everyone makes these mistakes and they do not take the criticism to heart. Basically, this is a waste of breath all around because the manager was avoiding giving direct coaching and feedback to the employee who actually made the error.

As an operations person, I believe that staff is often unproductive, not because they want to do shoddy work, but rather because they are working in a poorly designed system. Everything that we do in practice should have a standard operating procedure that makes sense. In order to have streamlined systems it makes sense to have the people who actually work within them give feedback on how to remove time wasters.

A favorite exercise to use to have the team create SOPs is to follow the example from this TED talk called Tell Me How You Make Toast from Tom Wujec. It is an exercise in Systems Thinking. All our work processes are systems and everyone should know the path from the beginning to the completion of the task. Knowing the standard path creates efficiency for the work. This is vital to maximizing the manpower we have to perform the most care with the least effort. Sometimes our systems were created when the practice opened and are no longer valid and in fact, inhibit our success.

Next – Learn Something

For years as a manager, I would invite my manufacturer’s sales reps into the practice to share education on their products. They usually provided lunch and it was always appreciated. Since the pandemic, many of the reps are still not back in clinics and their budget seems to have greatly diminished for these events. However, we have a building full of knowledge so we can certainly take advantage of our own team members to teach. If you employ the “catheter queen” have her show the rest of the staff her master technique.

You can bring in speakers from the area to discuss communication, marketing, client service, financial well-being, and mental health. If your licensed staff go to a continuing education event make it a requirement that they come back and share some of what they learned. Don’t leave out the CSRs and Kennel in these trainings. They may not use the skills but they can share the talents of the team with clients with much greater confidence when they learn too.

Finally – Set Goals

Some hospital share benchmarks with their teams but there are many more goals we can focus on than money. We could set safety goals for reducing falls and bites. We can set tardiness goals of 99% on-time clock-ins. How about a goal of being on time into exam rooms or less than 5 client complaints? How wonderful it would be if we set a goal to have 20 client complements in writing every month. A very important goal could be that everyone actually goes to lunch every day. What a goal to work towards to promote the well-being of the team.

The sky is the limit when you engage your team. I highly encourage you to allow the team to decide on some of their goals. Autonomy matters and time and time again data show that financial bonuses are not the motivators we hope them to be. A sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, acknowledgment of good work, and the power to direct my own tasks without micromanagement are all things that employees value. Give them those things and then watch your business skyrocket.