Things they didn’t teach in medical school: Part 20 How to do meetings

So over the weekend I speed read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.

I was motivated by the useful summary by the NY Times David Brooks: “Think about Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book, “Lean In.” Put aside the debate about the challenges facing women in society. Focus on the tasks she describes as being important for anybody who wants to rise in this economy: the ability to be assertive in a meeting; to disagree pleasantly; to know when to interrupt and when not to; to understand the flow of discussion and how to change people’s minds; to attract mentors; to understand situations; to discern what can change and what can’t”.

This reminded me about something that is increasingly important in my life – going to meetings. In fact my colleagues give me a hard time because I’m a bit of a meeting junkie but this is only because they spend 4-5 hours a week in meetings as opposed to my 20.

If as a doctor you work in a hospital and you are engaged with the running of the place you will need to spend a lot of time in meetings. These range from meetings of 2-3 people to 20 or more. The reasons for the meetings will be diverse and they encompass education, environmental scanning (FYI meetings), working meetings (i.e. you are making decisions) and advisory meetings (where you are helping others make decisions).

There is a lot written about how to run effective meetings so I won’t re-iterate all of these writings. I will say however that you need to know what the purpose of the meeting is and at the end of any meeting there needs to be an outcome…a decision or an action arising. Bad meetings are staccato and without resolution whereas good meetings have ‘flow’ and resolutions. Meetings work when everybody who wants a say gets a say, diversity of opinion is expressed and the outcomes are determined by consensus (this doesn’t actually mean everybody likes the outcome but everybody agrees).

Overall David Brooks’ summary offers a nice approach to meetings.

One final thing you do need to know about meetings is when to say no….my rule is that unless it is exceptional there is no role for ‘routine’ meetings that happen only twice a year….almost by definition these don’t achieve anything.

There is a whole additional art to chairing a meeting – one which I’m just coming to grips with – and which will form another post.

Amazon Lean In

David Brooks The Practical University

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