Infant Toddler Development Training
Module 2, Lesson 4
The Team Meeting
Although collaboration among team members can occur at any time, a great deal of teamwork occurs routine staff meetings and meetings with families. Most of us have attended meetings that were long, tedious, and completely unproductive. Indeed, it is all too easy for teams to lose focus and become 'derailed.'
As you read about team meetings, keep in mind that much of the literature in this area pertains to staff meetings for employees only; however, many of the principles can be readily applied to meetings with families.
On some teams, a particular person is designated as the facilitator or leader. However, on other teams, members take turns being the facilitator. Still other teams have no designated facilitator. Usually, teams function best when there is a regular leader. That person is typically responsible for planning the meeting, monitoring the discussion, maintaining an objective stance, and bringing the meeting to a close. Structured meetings are nearly always more productive than unstructured meetings.
The components of a successful meeting have been described by many experts (Beckman, 1996; Briggs, 1997; Thomas, Correa & Morsink, 2001). These components are summarized in the following paragraphs.
- Establishing Ground Rules: Successful team meetings begin with the establishment of ground rules. Ground rules are guidelines that all members agree to follow. Ground rules vary from team to team. They are developed through discussion and consensus. Examples of common rules include:
- Members must attend all meetings
- Members must arrive on time
- Members must demonstrate respect for each other's views
- Members must communicate directly and honestly
- Members must complete tasks that they agree to perform
Ground rules should be posted on a bulletin board in a room accessible to all members. New team members should be informed of the ground rules, and the team should discuss and revise the ground rules periodically.
One of the greatest difficulties with ground rules involves their enforcement. Ground rules are of little value if they are consistently ignored and neglected. It is often difficult for teams to figure out what to do when members break the rules. In order to overcome this obstacle, teams must discuss a) how to appropriately call attention to a violation, b) the consequences of violations. In other words, the team should anticipate problems and develop a strategy for addressing them.
Planning: If a meeting is to be successful, a good deal of planning and preparation must be done in advance. Typically an agenda with specific objectives is prepared. Team members should have ample opportunity to contribute to the items on the agenda. For example, a team member may wish to make a brief presentation or initiate discussion of a particular problem.
In addition to developing an agenda, copies of important documents should be made. For example, copies of assessment results and recommendations should be made so that all team members have access to the information that will be discussed at the meeting.
When planning an early intervention team meeting, certain obstacles may arise. For example, members of the team may work at different agencies or different locations. It may not be practical for team members to meet face-to-face all the time. Scheduling problems and unforeseen events can make the task of organizing a meeting even more difficult. Team members should remain flexible and open to alternatives to the traditional face-to-face meeting in the office, home or center. Occasionally, teams may need to meet over a quick meal at an agreed upon location if they can establish enough privacy for discussion.
While most meetings will be in-person, creative alternatives such as phone conferences, e-mail communication, or online discussions may sometimes be necessary. For example, if team member A cannot be physically present for a meeting, the agenda and other important documents could be sent to Member A electronically. Member A could then refer to these materials during a conference call with the remaining team members.
Opening the meeting: Whatever format is used, the meeting should begin on time. Introductions of team members who do not know each other should be made. The agenda and other relevant paperwork should be distributed.
Conducting the meeting: Meetings can be conducted in a variety of ways. Typical formats include reviewing the agenda, adding or deleting items as needed, prioritizing agenda items, following up on issues from the previous meeting, addressing old and new business, etc...The format that you use should encourage a structured and meaningful dialogue among team members.
During meetings it is important that all members participate in some way. If some members tend to dominate and others remain silent, a procedure for sharing viewpoints should be established so that everyone can be heard.
It is important for the team to remain on track and on schedule. The facilitator is usually given the task of monitoring interactions, but all members should assume some degree of responsibility. If Member A notices Members B and C drifting hopelessly away from the main point, Member A should make his/her observation known, even if he/she is not the leader. It is often helpful to develop a formal process for handling tangential topics. For example, a designated team member can keep a record of topics and issues that seem important but not necessarily relevant to the current meeting. These topics can then be addressed in future meetings.
In most cases, it is advisable for a particular team member to take on the role of 'recorder.' When the team makes an important decision or assigns a specific task to a member, this information should be put in writing. Assignment details should be made explicit. A team might develop a specific form that lists the name of the person who will complete the task, the precise nature of the task, the deadline, and a plan for reporting back to the team (Briggs, 1997).
Sometimes, very sensitive information must be shared and discussed during early intervention meetings. When discussing assessment results, intervention planning or progress, it is important to be sensitive yet honest (Beckman, 1996). Other tips to remember when providing feedback to caregivers include:
- Be straightforward. Do not be evasive. The caregiver should not be put in the position of having to guess what you mean.
- Recognize the limitations of your own knowledge. It is acceptable to say "I don't know." When this occurs, use the team process to address the issue or problem
- Avoid the use of professional jargon.
- Allow sufficient time for caregivers to ask questions and discuss their concerns
Many early intervention meetings involve discussing and developing an action plan. Action plans specify goals, strategies for achieving those goals, the roles of particular team members, a timeframe for achieving each goal, and a method of reviewing progress.
- Closing the meeting: A brief review of the main points of discussion is helpful at the conclusion of a meeting. Members should have an opportunity to voice concerns and/or issues that were not addressed during the meeting. Members should leave the meeting with a clear sense of what was discussed and decided.
- Following the meeting: A few days after the meeting, the facilitator may wish to send out a brief e-mail or memo summarizing the main points and reminding particular team members of their responsibilities. This is a nice way of keeping the team on track between meetings. In early intervention settings, it is often helpful if the primary provider calls the family a few days after the meeting to clarify the plan and answer any remaining questions. Such follow-up procedures are usually very much appreciated.
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