laptop with a team meeting on screen

Every successful dental practice – like every successful business – grows by setting and meeting goals. Clinical goals, such as learning to do full arch cases. Business goals, such as increasing new patient flow.

Achieving those goals means putting sustained focus and energy behind a plan and getting the right people aligned on implementing a series of actions. In a business like a dental practice, where the team leader works in relative isolation from most of the team most of the time, there is only one way to achieve that kind of alignment and drive those plans forward: by holding effective team meetings.

I realize this may seem like a strange time to focus on this topic. Why spend time thinking about how to have effective meetings at a time when nobody is having any meetings?

There are two reasons. The first is that you absolutely should still be having meetings – you just shouldn't be having them in person. Later in this article, there are going to be some tips specifically on leading effective meetings online. But the fact is, everything else we talk about here – the philosophies and strategies behind great meetings – applies just as much when you are meeting on screen as it does when you are meeting in a room together.

The other reason is simple: the crisis won't last forever. 

A bold act of leadership

The first thing any leader needs to really internalize about meetings is just how vitally important they are to achieving those goals that drive practice growth. When the schedule is full and the days are busy, it is easy to get caught up in keeping up and to see meetings as an imposition on your time, a necessary evil that has to be done every once in a while.

As a result, meetings are often approached the wrong way, with a lack of structure and preparation, with no shared mindset and attitude, with a lack of sustained focus and direction, and with little clarity for implementation and accountability.

But the truth is, team meetings are where most of the important ideas that drive growth are launched and take shape and where you get aligned as a team on strategic objectives. Every successful practice leader I know recognizes that this devoted team time is just as important as chairside clinical time. So just committing to a meetings framework, and to executing meetings effectively, is a bold act of leadership.

3 keys to professionalizing meetings

So how do you create a system that works? As it turns out, most of those reasons I just mentioned as to why meetings fail – and many other issues – can be addressed by focusing on professionalizing your approach in three areas:

  1. Professionalize your environment. Naturally, you are not holding team meetings in a shared physical environment right now. But remember, the time is coming – and it hopefully is not too far off – when your full team will be sharing a workspace and a meeting space again, so take advantage of the time you have now to think about how that meeting space should look.

    Most dental practices are not designed with dedicated meeting space in mind, so it's up to you to work with what you have to create that professional atmosphere. Ideally, you will take a regular team space – a lunch area, for instance – and outfit it with a large screen monitor for viewing video lessons. If you're in a smaller facility without a staff room, you can consider other ideas, such as using the reception area. You'll also want to have a whiteboard or flipcharts available to record ideas from the meeting as they happen.
  2. Professionalize your preparation. Good meetings don't come off spontaneously; they require foresight and preparation. Every team member should receive the agenda for the meeting and any accompanying resources at least a day ahead. And on the day of the meeting one person needs to be tasked with logistical duties: preparing the meeting room, having handouts ready, ensuring the internet connection and camera, if necessary, are working, and ensuring everything is ready to go for the first patients after the meeting.
  3. Professionalize your process. That means every meeting starts on time and ends on time, and stays on purpose throughout. To keep that clarity for your focus, you should be ready to record any items that arise that are worth discussing but are off-topic for the moment. It's what I call a parking lot. It lets you acknowledge ideas, concerns, or questions as they arise, without allowing them to derail the agenda of the meeting. You can then get back to these parking lot items at the end of the meeting, or, if necessary, schedule time to address them later.

These are the measures to take to ensure that all meetings are effective and on purpose, and that you are approaching them as seriously as you would a full-mouth rehab case. They apply whether it's a morning meeting (what I call the Perfect Day Meeting) to identify areas of focus of the day, or a weekly meeting focused on a specific growth agenda (or operational issue that can pivot to a growth strategy), or a monthly meeting to review results and set new goals, or a quarterly meeting where you introduce new growth objectives and strategies for the coming months, as determined in your annual plan. Most of these principles also apply to individual Growth Conferences with each team member.

So, using these as our guidelines, what would a typical meeting look like? Let's use a weekly meeting with a learning agenda as an example. Suppose you were having a meeting focusing on case acceptance techniques. That means you would:

  • Make sure a team member has sourced material to be shared at the meeting, such as online lessons on case acceptance, as well as patient education videos to review together. Include any supplemental resources such as articles.
  • Ensure the topic and agenda are distributed to each team member in advance.
  • On the day of the meeting, prepare the meeting room so all resources are laid out for each person, videos are selected, and presentation tools are ready.
  • Assign someone to lead the discussion, as well as someone to document implementation assignments and timelines, individual learning assignments, and anything else needed to support implementation.

This last part is especially important, because without a firm conclusion that details who does what and when you can find yourself in a cycle where the same issues keep coming up. That's also why it is important to have progress checkpoints for each implementation item and to begin each meeting reviewing that progress.

That's a brief overview of a meeting plan for a restorative practice. Specialists, of course, would have a similar structure in terms of preparation, but their focus would also feature specific strategies for including referring doctors and their teams. If you are a member of Spear, you have access to online courses on team meetings, which includes detailed guideline documents for conducting meetings. And if you are a specialist who is a member of the Masters Program, you have access to your own resource document that outlines the priorities from a specialist perspective.

Tips for meeting online

Now let's talk about meetings within the context of this new reality. Most of the principles we have discussed here still apply to virtual meetings, but there are a few additional tips to keep in mind:

Make sure everyone uses video. Most online conferencing platforms allow participants to opt-out of being on video during the meeting. You should require video participation. For one thing, it feels more like a meeting and enhances human interaction, when people can see each other. Also, as a leader, it allows you to read facial expressions and reactions that you can't get from an audio-only experience.

Break the ice. This might sound strange since we are talking about people who work together and know each other well. But the fact is, people can feel a little awkward being live on-screen. So, you should spend the first few minutes getting everyone comfortable. Have each participant take a moment to talk about what is happening with them personally. Keep it light and try to get the camaraderie going.

Discourage multitasking. During an in-person meeting, people generally don't get up to leave, or start checking their email. But the online experience lends itself to these distractions. Remind the team they are to stay focused on the meeting and to keep other computer tabs closed. (This is where having the video function enabled for everyone is useful for ensuring all participants are listening and engaged.) And there is one more way to ensure the right level of engagement: collaboration.

Encourage collaboration. Have plenty of moments during the meeting that calls for team input. Call on individuals by name to ask for their thoughts. Assign tasks such as keeping the minutes and recording action items and rotate them among the team. If you keep up this method, you will establish expectations that will have everyone ready and participating fully, and not just logging in to watch a show.

Remember, devoting the right time to doing meetings right is a bold act of leadership – especially in these times. Don't fall into the trap of just responding to events. As the practice leader, it is your intentional energy and influence that creates daily momentum. It's about preparation, consistency, reinforcement, and continual improvement. That is true now, as you find yourself with special challenges to face, and it will continue to be true long into the future.

Imtiaz Manji is co-founder and chairman of Spear Education. Discover more of his practice management and leadership lessons at .