We have all been part of a clinical research staff meeting that seems to drag on or circle around issues or problems without ever coming up with viable solutions. We have also been part of meetings that seem to occur just so research staff can vent, chat or catch up on the latest news. While I like hearing about the best shows to binge watch on Netflix as much as the next person, I think it is safe to say that anyone working in the field of clinical research has far too much to do with far too little time. Making effective use of staff meetings is essential to ensure everyone is on the same page, has received the information that is essential to doing their job, and has processes in place to make doing that job as efficient as possible.
When I first started, my research site staff meetings were unplanned and held as needed. Most of the topics we covered were brought up without any structure and were never documented. I rationalized this relaxed structure by the fact that we were a small company with only three employees. We spoke to each other every day, why would we need structured staff meetings? After all, we were all on the same page and everyone involved with research knew what needed to be done... or so I thought.
As I brought on additional team members it became apparent that research staff weren't as adept at reading my mind or each other's as I had thought. Miscommunications and lack of information getting to the right people was made apparent by the increase in protocol deviations and missing data points I was seeing.
This was not how I wanted my research site to continue.
So, a little over a year ago, I started implementing bi-weekly research staff meetings. We would meet every other week to discuss the status of current studies, issues we were having, enrollment ideas, etc. While this new structure was a vast improvement, the meetings often lasted well over an hour and seemed to circle around topics that should have quicker resolutions. They were also filled with a lot of venting and not a lot of solutions.
I realized I had to reign in these meetings. The first change I made was how frequently we were meeting. Biweekly meetings seemed too far apart as it took time to get everyone up to speed. I started scheduling a meeting for a set time every week. This new meeting strategy allows us to tackle the small issues that arise before they become big issues that take longer to solve. I also found that shorter, more frequent meetings increased efficiency and staff output. Gino Wickman's book, Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business, illustrates this observation by comparing meetings to the spikes on an EKG reading.
"When people have to get something done for a meeting, they wait until the last minute and usually finish it-- that's the spike. The more you can increase the meeting interval, the more spikes you get and the more business you'll get finished"
Once I determined the scheduling frequency, I had to figure out the most efficient meeting strategy to cover all that I wanted to communicate to my staff. I moved to a three-part agenda and vowed to keep meetings under an hour. Here are the three key components I have found lead to an efficient clinical research meeting-- most are now under 30 minutes!
3 Components of Running More Efficient Meetings
- Study updates
For my site, the study update portion of the meeting is a brief rundown of each study, the enrollment numbers, enrollment challenges, and any new IND safety reports. This portion of the meeting helps me and the PI understand which studies may be struggling and alerts us to ones that need additional attention. If there are any issues, I add them to the "New Business" section that I'll cover further below. This review also alerts staff to closing enrollment windows so that final pushes can be made quickly and efficiently to get patients scheduled for screening before the sponsor closes enrollment.
Reviewing any IND safety reports is a good method for ensuring all research staff are aware of this information. While the investigator is responsible for signing off that they reviewed these reports, it is also their responsibility to ensure all essential staff, including sub-investigators, also review this information. Doing so in a weekly staff meeting makes sure everyone is on the same page and documentation of this review is recorded in the agendas.
Depending on how many studies you need to cover, a table with these numbers can also be updated and distributed at the meeting to save time. If that is the case, discussion can focus on any struggling studies or studies that are closing enrollment soon.
- New Business
I actually talk about any new business in the final third of the meeting but, for the sake of this article, I'll address what goes in this section first. In this portion, I address any new challenges or obstacles. I also address any new processes I want to implement and discuss with staff.
For example, last week we switched our email tags to better reflect our business name. I added it to the agenda under "new business" to discuss the change process and to discuss any additional steps the staff may need to take.
There are two important things to emphasize here:
- When introducing a new challenge or obstacle the issue is stated once. The rest of the discussion needs to emphasize solutions-- not ruminate on the problem.
- The second thing to note is I am not the only one that adds items to the agenda. Our agenda template is saved on a shared drive that all staff have access to. At my request, however, there is never more than three "new business" items each week. This ensures we have efficient, timely meetings that don't last all day.
- Old Business
As stated above, "old business" is actually discussed and resolved before we discuss new business. This order gives us a chance to resolve any topics that weren't resolved at the prior week's meeting. Going off of the email example, the "old business" the following week may include a discussion about any issues encountered during the email migration and making sure everybody has working email. Another "old business" example could be finalizing a recruitment strategy that we had been researching that week in order to make a final determination.
If you find a topic that keeps appearing in the "old business" section of your meeting agenda each week I advise you to take a closer look at it. If it has stayed unresolved for this long is it really something that needs to be resolved or completed? Is discussing it each week continuing to be productive? Perhaps it is not a decision that needs to be made during a staff meeting but rather in a management meeting? If a topic stays in "old business" for more than two weeks I suggest you remove it from the agenda as a staff meeting clearly isn't the place for a resolution.
Once I implemented this tri-part format and increased the frequency of our meetings from bi weekly to weekly, the effectiveness of meetings greatly improved. I have seen an increase in both accountability and communication, as well as staff morale! After all, who really enjoys sitting through long, drawn-out meetings?
Editor: Jill Heinz is the Owner and Director of Injury Care Research - a site full of super-coordinators! Jill has worked in the research industry for over 17 years and is a Certified Research Coordinator and Certified Research Contracts Professional. Her favorite task is meeting with research subjects and overseeing the coordination of clinical trials.