Patricia L. Fitzgerald 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Have your staff meetings and training sessions gotten a little stale? What kind of response do you get when you announce that one of these has been scheduled? Groans and grumbles? Do staff members make excuses to avoid attending? What’s the atmosphere during the meeting? Are your attendees looking up from their notepads or laps and smiling, making eye contact with you, listening and nodding in engagement—or are they nodding off in boredom and impatience? Whether you gather together a small group of employees on a weekly or monthly basis or assemble the entire staff for an annual inservice workshop, regular team meetings are an organizational necessity. And in school nutrition, periodic training on the complex procedures and rules related to serving meals to children is absolutely essential. This kind of “face time” between a supervisor and staff—and even among colleagues who may not work together frequently—is important for numerous reasons (see the box on page 26). And yet in many organizations, including school nutrition operations, regular meetings can wind up being a low priority that keeps getting rescheduled in favor of more “important” or “time-sensitive” activities. If staff meetings and trainings have become a drag for you and your team, take heart!There are a number of ways to inject some new dynamism into this routine activity.Some of the following suggestions may take a little extra planning or effort, but shaking things up usually does—fortunately, it usually pays off with renewed attention and energy! WHEN & WHERE There is value in setting—and keeping to—a consistent schedule of meetings with your team. If you find yourself frequently postponing, rescheduling or cancelling regular staff meetings, then it’s time to open your calendar and set them for the next six months— and make a commitment to yourself and your team that you will stick to the schedule. If you absolutely must reschedule, promise yourself to find a new time or day within a week of the original date. But maybe you and your team are in a rut precisely because you have committed so rigidly to a set schedule.What kind of adjustments can you make to lessen x`The sense of routine? Maybe for the next six months you can agree to meet twice as often—but for half the time. Or, conversely, set a few longer meetings that are a little less frequent. Perhaps you mix it up by alternating between face-time meetings and conference calls. The nature of a school nutrition operation can restrict the flexibility you have for scheduling the time of the meeting. Nonetheless, look at opportunities in this area, too. Are there certain days of the week or month that lend themselves to switching to a morning meeting, instead of after the last lunch period—just as an experiment? Similarly, you can inject a little life into regular Meetings by changing the setting. Is it always at the district office? What if you rotated it among different school sites? Is it a nice day? Head for a picnic table outside. Maybe a bona fide “field trip” is the ticket—hold your meeting at the local mall and tie the agenda to making observations about the commercial restaurants and customers there. What’s important is that you stay open and willing to test out a variation to the routine. If scheduling changes don’t work as effectively as the tried and true, you can go back to your routine and seek other areas to shake things up. WHO Sick of seeing the same faces over and over again? (Of course not!) Your team is your team, so you may think there’s no opportunity for flexibility here. But try to think out of the box! For example, would the sky fall in if “outsiders” visited your monthly managers’ meeting? Maybe one month you invite your assistant managers or interns (or an employee you think has promise to rise up the career ladder) to sit in.You can encourage them to share opinions or request that they simply observe. Sometimes just the presence of an outsider can have an impact on meeting dynamics. Your staff may feel less likely to complain about something they dislike—or they may speak up about an achievement that they are proud of, but one that didn’t seem “worth” sharing in front of the same ol’ crowd. Push further and consider inviting someone from outside your operation but still within the school community to join you. Examples include a school principal, a PTA president, the president of the student council or even the editor of the school newspaper. Not only does this change the rhythm a Bit for your own staff, but it’s another way to help gain new advocates who will get a better sense of just how complex a business it is to manage a school cafeteria—not to mention some renewed respect for the “lunch ladies.” You don’t have to do this every time you meet, of course, but arranging it upon occasion will help give new purpose to an overly familiar routine. Do you always lead the meeting? Try passing the baton!Make it a responsibility that rotates among the participants— each needs to take a turn at putting together the agenda and facilitating the discussion. It can be a great growth opportunity for staff members, pushing some out of their comfort zones. And it’s another way to keep the process from feeling stale. Even if you opt to control the reins each time, you can liven up meetings by ensuring active participation by everyone present. Lectures have their place, but you are missing some wonderful opportunities for team building if you are the only one doing the talking. Think this advice doesn’t apply to you, because your staff is “encouraged to participate”? Look long and hard at the rhythm and fl ow of an average staff meeting. How does “participation” manifest itself? Is it just a matter of team members giving short reports, followed by Q&A time? If so, you might want to look at new ways to engage your meeting attendees during your time together. WHAT & HOW Creating an emphasis on interaction naturally leads us to what is, arguably, the most direct way to invigorate your tired meeting routines: Change the agenda. Start by taking this advice at its simple face value. Does your meeting Always follow the same fl ow of activities? What if you did them in reverse order next time? Now, go further. Reflect on the purpose of the meeting and consider how you might put this face time to the best use. Drill down on each current agenda item: Is a face-toface meeting the best place to exchange this information? Is it important to cover this area every time the group meets when you are meeting regularly? Are there items on the agenda that tend to get shifted to the “next” meeting for lack of time for adequate coverage? What needs to change to make these a genuine priority? Is there a new way to accomplish the goal of each particular agenda item? One of the benefits of working as a team is, well, working as a team. Maximize opportunities for everyone involved to share ideas, offer feedback, be creative, grow your program and grow together. Regular meetings offer the best venue for this kind of team-building; does your agenda take advantage of this tool, or does it squander the opportunity? Finally, put on your creative thinking cap and seek ways to inject a little fun into regular meetings and training sessions. Consider the following ideas: • Start with an icebreaker activity. Huh? We all know each other already! (Or do you?) Before you get down to business, take 5 or 10 minutes for some fun sharing. It might be as simple as asking each attendee to brag (briefly) about a recent accomplishment of their child, grandchild, spouse or other family member. Each meeting can feature a different question: How would you spend a big lottery jackpot? What was your favorite menu item when you were a kid?What’s at the top of your bucket list?Participants can share answers with the group or just with a neighbor. • Make time for praise and appreciation. Use regular meetings to recognize employees for their hard work and for meeting identified goals. Be sure that everyone knows when someone has gone above and beyond on a project. Don’t wait for an annual banquet or ceremony to show your appreciation. Get the staff into a similar frame of mind by asking them to nominate a colleague for a “lifesaver” award, recognizing coworkers for coming to the rescue on a bad day or in a sticky situation. • Apply the “surprise” factor.Keep things interesting with the occasional (pleasant) surprise. Maybe you’ve decided to turn one regular staff meetingInto a mini-training session with an interactive pop quiz, with some healthy snacks as prizes! Maybe one meeting has its own version of a lucky tray prize, with the attendee sitting in a particular seat getting a nominal gift card to a local restaurant or business. Need a reason to whip up one of your favorite homemade desserts? It could be a nice surprise treat at your next meeting. A Matter of Meaning The quest to make regular meetings matter is not a solitary one. Ask your team for their opinions: Are our meetings meaningful to you? Why or why not? What would make them more valuable? Hey—there’s a great agenda item for your next meeting: How can we improve these regular gettogethers? Meetings can be fun or a chore—for you, as well as your team. But the ultimate responsibility for making them fun lies with you. Wouldn’t it be great to have someone ask you, “Hey, when is our next team meeting? I want to be sure I don’t miss it!” Why Do We Need to Meet? With so many of us having access to—and greater comfort with—computers and smartphones, our communication styles and preferences have begun to evolve. Instead of always prioritizing live conversations, we tend to turn to e-mails, text messages and instantmessaging, as well as social media posts and comments.Indeed, there seems to be an increasing emphasis on “virtual” conferences, such as webinars and other forms of long-distance, real-time interaction. But there are several genuine benefits that can be lost without opportunities for in-person “face” time. Here are three top reasons to make the most of your time together. I need to communicate important information. You can’t guarantee that an employee is going to absorb something you’ve said, but live, real-time dialogue reduces the chance that critical information will go unread or that it might be misunderstood. Indeed, any kind of essential information should be delivered—and reinforced— in multiple formats. I want staff members to communicate important information to me and to others on our team. Staffers can send you monthly reports, but sharing details about positive achievements in a group setting can be a great motivator for the entire team. And sharing questions or Describing a negative experience with a group also can be effective in generating solutions and strategies. I want to create a positive workplace environment that emphasizes camaraderie and the benefits of a team approach toward shared goals. School nutrition operations are team environments. No one can “telecommute” and do this job.But the daily grind can make employees feel isolated in their respective responsibilities.Coming together to discuss the bigger picture; share collective success stories and frustrations; and give opinions and feedback is a great way to build team spirit.
Published by School Nutrition Association. View All Articles.
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