Regardless how we feel about meetings, it's hard to keep a safety process going and promote continuous improvement without them. We must meet at least occasionally so team members can connect with one another and: " hold each other accountable for achieving specific tasks, " review project progress and acknowledge achievements, " discuss problems and corrective action plans, " check the time line and make mid-course corrections, " plan for the next steps and assign new task responsibilities. Let's examine what's needed to get the most out of meetings. Assign roles To begin with, meetings should be run by a designated leader or facilitator, with notes taken by the recorder. Sometimes the same person serves as both leader and facilitator, setting the tone, prompting discussion, and encouraging total participation. But often it's a good idea to have a leader and a facilitator. The facilitator takes the group through the agenda and calls for reports, comments, and suggestions. The group leader or champion offers insightful commentary and challenging observations as a regular member of the discussion group. It's a good idea to rotate the role of facilitator among the team, committee, group, or whatever you choose to call it. Giving participants the chance to direct the flow of a meeting increases both personal confidence and commitment, which leads to more involvement and a strengthen ed sense of commitment.

Prepare an agenda

An agenda keeps a meeting on track and focused. A good agenda is not wordy nor complex. It is simply an outline of items to be covered. Distribute a copy of the agenda to all participants as the meeting begins. This is the script that the group will follow, triggering comments and opinions as topics come up. The basic components of an agenda,and the sequence in which they are covered,will not vary much from one meeting to the next: " Review the purpose of the team meeting. " Make any organizational announcements relevant to the group's mission. " Call for progress reports from participants, including project objectives, accomplishments since last meeting, and special assistance or resources needed for the next steps. " Discuss special issues, difficulties, and solutions,with a positive focus. " Identify what needs to happen next to keep projects or task assignments progressing and improving. " Set the time and date for the next meeting, and offer a preview of critical topics or project reports to be covered.

The 'Safety Share'

Every safety meeting should start with the facilitator asking each person present to report on something they have done for safety since the last meeting, regardless of how insignificant it may seem. Even buckling a safety belt or reminding a coworker to use certain personal protective equipment qualifies as a 'safety share.' This request will motivate some people to go out of their way for safety in order to have an impressive experience to share. The focus here is not on failure,such as reporting the number of injuries since the last meeting,but on success: what you've accomplished for safety. You might vary this process slightly by asking participants to share what they intend to do for safety before the next team meeting. This encourages people to think proactively about safety. Plus, when you state your intentions out loud, especially publicly, you make a strong mental note to yourself. There's a good chance you'll remember your promise and follow through. Peer support is involved, too. You'll want to honor your commitment to avoid disappointing the group. Then when you follow through on your intention, the approval you get from the others just reinforces your commitment and personal involvement for safety.

Keep on track

Even with a clear agenda, meetings can get bogged down with digressions or side conversations. The facilitator needs to be assertive at the right times to keep the discussion on track and productive. For a statement that's off track, the facilitator might say, "Your point is interesting Mike, but let's table it for now." Or she might ask, "How does your point relate to the topic of our discussion?" At times, certain individuals dominate a meeting with their opinions and comments. It's important for the facilitator to take charge with a statement like, "Pardon me, Joe, can we get some opinions from other team members?" Or, "Excuse me, but we need to wrap up this discussion in a few minutes so we can move on to the next agenda item. Does anyone else want to offer their perspective briefly?"

Manage time effectively

Meetings have the reputation of robbing people of valuable time. Here are a few suggestions for managing your meeting time effectively: " Designate a start and stop time, and make sure everyone knows what these are. " Start the meeting on time, even if everyone has not shown up. This sets the tone for on-time arrivals. " Stop the meeting on time, even if every agenda item was not covered completely. This emphasizes the need to use meeting time efficiently. " Allot specific time periods to each agenda item, and remind participants of these throughout the meeting. " If breaks are given, state a precise time for participants to return. And start the meeting again at this time, even if everyone has not returned. " If discussions get long, remind participants of the time remaining and the number of agenda items left. " Hold meetings prior to lunch time or at the end of the workday in order to provide an incentive to get things done on time. " Don't allow distracting cellular phones or pagers in the meeting. Record minutes Decisions and assignments made during a meeting are usually critical for safety success, yet they can be easily forgotten. It's important for a designated 'recorder' to document key events, allowing others to listen attentively and participate actively throughout the meeting without worrying about taking notes. Consider these points when preparing minutes of a meeting: " Include location, date, time and names of those in attendance. " Document the flow of the meeting in chronological order. " Record key points and who made them. " Summarize accomplishments from project reports and suggestions for the next steps or follow-up. " Specify task assignments and who is responsible for each. " Include the location, date, and time for the next meeting. Meeting notes should be made available as a permanent record of team or group progress. Distribute the minutes as soon as possible after the meeting. This reminds everyone of their accomplishments and their obligations for continual safety success.