Tired of unproductive meetings that just drain your time and energy? Join us as we chat with Dr. Kim Harmon, managing partner at Fairfield Equine Associates, about transforming your veterinary team meetings into productive and enjoyable experiences for everyone, whether you work in a large or small veterinary practice.
We'll dive into different types of meetings, from one-on-one sessions to brainstorming gatherings, and discuss the importance of clear communication and psychological safety. Plus, you'll hear about innovative ideas for team building, including incorporating fun events and activities into the work day. Don't miss this opportunity to elevate your team dynamics and make your meetings truly effective.
The second part of our discussion can be found here!
About Dr. Kim Harmon
Dr. Harmon grew up in Potomac, Maryland, where she developed her passion for horses through Pony Club and 3-Day-Eventing.
A 2007 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, she was the recipient the Patient Care Award, and the George M. Palmer Prize for promise in equine practice. After graduation, she chose to pursue her commitment to the care of horses by furthering her education. Dr. Harmon completed her internship in sports medicine, surgery, and diagnostic imaging with Fairfield Equine in 2008 and continued on as an associate.
In 2018, she became an owner of FEA and now serves as the Managing Partner of the practice. Dr. Harmon has special interests in lameness and the equine athlete as well as the management of emergency cases.
In her down time, she enjoys spending time with her husband Phil, and their 2 kiddos Benjamin and Kate.
Resources that we mention
-Stay Interview guidance from the AAEP's sustainability initiative
-Meetings 101 downloadable PDF summary
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Do you feel like it's possible to find joy and positive change within veterinary medicine? Are you looking for a community that's striving for fulfillment rather than perfection? Hey there, i'm Dr Stacy Cordivano. I want veterinarians to learn to be happier, healthier, wealthier and more grateful for the lives that we've created. On this podcast, i will speak with outside-of-the-box thinkers to hear new ideas on ways to improve our day-to-day lives. Welcome to the whole veterinarian. Hey there, i hope you're doing well. I'm really excited to share this episode with you. I got to spend time talking with Dr Kim Harmon, who is the managing partner at Fairfield Equine Associates, and she and I are talking about how to run and plan for effective meetings. She leads a huge team at Fairfield Equine, and I throw in a little bit of tidbits from a very small team perspective, so we tried to keep everybody in mind here. We just felt like this topic was so important and so underutilized in veterinary medicine that we really wanted to share all of this insight that Kim had. It's a bit of a long one. It's going to be a two-parter, so this is part one. Stay tuned for part two. We hope you can take away some really actionable tips from these two episodes, so please let us know what you think and enjoy. Kim and I are members of the Practice Culture Subcommittee, which is one of the five subcommittees on the AAEP's Commission on Equine Veterinary Sustainability. We are here to talk about something that our group has talked about and found really important, and that is how to run an effective meeting. Kim has a lot of experience doing this, and I have a very different perspective on the size of practice, so we're excited to dig into this First. Hi Kim, how are you?Kim Harmon:
Hey, stacey, i'm good, I'm so happy to be here. How are ?Stacey Cordivano:
I'm good, thanks. So tell listeners a little bit about yourself, and then we'll kind of dig into the different things we want to share.Kim Harmon:
Great Well. Like I said, i'm very excited to be here and have really enjoyed getting to know Stacey serving on our subcommittee together. I'm Kim Harmon. I am a 2007 graduate of Penn. I did a year of internship training at Fairfield Equine and I stayed with the practice since that time. I became an owner in 2018 and then stepped into the managing veterinarian role in 2020. I'm a wife to a husband of almost it'll be 12 years this weekend Congratulations, thank you and a mom to two great kids Ben 9, and Kate, who's 5.Stacey Cordivano:
Awesome. I can relate to those ages. I'm almost exactly the same. It's a busy season of life. So, speaking of busy, you guys also have a very busy practice, right? How many employees and things.Kim Harmon:
Yeah, So we are in the mid to upper 30s at this point. There's always a little bit of flux here and there, but we're at about 36 right now. I'm going to say We have locations in Newtown, Connecticut, and Wellington, Florida, and Trian, North Carolina, and we have people moving among those locations. Our home base in Newtown We have a hospital, so we do referral work as well as ambulatory primary care for our clients, mostly focused on sport, horsework, but we do just about anything. Okay.Stacey Cordivano:
So that's a lot of moving parts to be managing.Kim Harmon:
Yeah, i should mention we have a great internship program as well, with three interns right now for next year.Stacey Cordivano:
So adding to our team. Great, very cool, okay, so we on the subcommittee discussed how well we talk about all things work culture, and that encompasses a huge breadth of topics. But we have all discussed how being involved in a nonproductive meeting is one of the worst things that you can do with your time and how that can affect overall clinic morale. So I'm curious what makes meetings unpopular, because we all know that people kind of dread them.Kim Harmon:
Well, i can speak to what makes them unpopular, or made them unpopular for me and made me dread them. In the time span that I've been working with Fairfield, i've seen us go from one end of the spectrum to the other, and so we had really infrequent meetings. So they would be sparse, sporadic, wouldn't always have a clear focus, a clear agenda, so not really sure what our goals were when we sat down. They would not start on time, they certainly wouldn't end on time, so didn't really know what the end point was, and then that would bleed into the rest of my day and delay me. Those were the biggies that made me think like gosh, here we go again.Stacey Cordivano:
I know for myself I used to be involved with a nonprofit that had board meetings that literally nothing got accomplished. And I'm not even like a super strong D on the disk that needs to have a checklist, but that was so frustrating to not get anything accomplished.Kim Harmon:
Yeah, no, i am a D and that definitely was rough for me for sure, to feel like we were having the same conversation and not with a clear outline of next steps and where do we go and feeling like we were accomplishing?Stacey Cordivano:
something. And side note, if you don't know what we're talking about, it's the disk assessment And probably it is a really important thing to do with your team before trying to run an effective meeting. That's like totally different rabbit hole to go down. But OK, so what makes meetings worthwhile? Why should equine practice owners or managing directors or whoever is involved in this be concerned with having meetings at all or having good meetings? Yeah.Kim Harmon:
From where I sit. We had some feedback from our team around communication or lack thereof, and this was based on a survey that we sent out to our whole team. The feedback we got was we're not getting information, it's not being shared in a timely way, we don't know what's going on. Going back to, i think one of the pillars of a good culture is around communication. So for us it was how do we communicate better with the team in the most effective way possible with a limited amount of time? Like many of us in equine practice, we're on the go, so how do we maximize what little time we have with each other to help do the most necessary communications and try to build the team? So one thing was to improve our communication. Another thing was to improve just our trust with each other and how we chose to communicate and show up for each other to build a better team among ourselves. So how do we use that time to share ideas, gain alignment with each other and make sure we're all on the same page? One thing that would happen for us is when we did not come together, when we took so much time apart from each other, assumptions would start to be made, so people would get into their own world and start thinking things oh, they said this, or oh they said that or whatever it was, when those might not be truths. So being able to have a place for us to come together and discuss really brought that down not to zero, but I think it definitely helped to have face time with people.Stacey Cordivano:
For sure. I mean, I think that we're going to talk about psychological safety in this discussion just because it's inherently related. But for those that don't know, psychological safety is the idea that you can bring new ideas, bring questions, air concerns in a team setting, And thought behind that is that it helps the whole organization become more progressive and more cohesive. And so one of the main ways to start to increase psychological safety, proven in research, is to have more face-to-face time together. So I think that makes a lot of sense. Ok, so let's dig into the types of meetings that exist, because I think we often probably have meetings that we don't even know our meetings. So I know you have kind of a categorization and let's kind of go through those.Kim Harmon:
Yeah. So to your point of having meetings you may not even realize you're having. I mean, we all interact with clients day to day. Those are a type of meeting. So, to start off on our list of possible types, a one-on-one meeting is that kind of meeting that we have every day but also, i think, can be valuable, with the team. I use these for check-ins with our doctors. Our practice manager uses them for check-ins with some of our technicians. It's time that I protect that's blocked off. That's just to talk to that person. So the trap I fell into was oh, i see them every day. I know what's going on with them. If there's something up, they'll come talk to me. What I realized is no, they won't, and it doesn't always happen that way. But when I protect that time to sit down with somebody and just say, hey, how's it going, i don't have a lot of prep for these one-on-ones. I don't have an agenda necessarily. I take notes so that I remember to bring things up the next time we get together. It again, it's protected time to just sit down and check in with somebody How's it going, what do you need? How can I help? Those are the framework questions there.Stacey Cordivano:
Great. I think I can imagine some people might push back and say I don't have time to do that Or like, how do you fit that in? So I'm going to ask you that.Kim Harmon:
Yeah, it's a really fair question. Candidly, i have structured my practice such that I am on the road two days a week and I have three days a week to manage. So I have carved out time and probably more time than an average or some practice owners may have in their day if they're out practicing, even if it's a half an hour and it can be virtual too. So something to consider that, if you just now that we all use Zoom so commonly, if it's just a Zoom that you can set up with someone or one of our associates we grab dinner together quarterly and that's something about just it's a casual way to just try to find some time together to touch base. So I think, trying to be creative about where you find that time, and I think it's also okay to be really clear with the person you're meeting with to say, hey, i have a half an hour, like, let's use this half hour because your time as a leader is valuable too. So being clear with what you can give time wise to that meeting, it doesn't have to be a two hour, it doesn't have to be take two hours.Stacey Cordivano:
Does that help? It does, And I especially like that boundary around the time. I think that's a great point. I mean, I brought it up because I think if you're struggling with work culture or retention or hiring new associates and you're also saying I don't have time to meet with them, like that should be a red flag. You know what I mean. Like it is intentional work to lead a team well And whether that's meetings or just in general. So I think that if you're saying both of those things, they kind of go together and you almost don't have room to not make time if you want to improve.Kim Harmon:
Yeah, i think that's the hard truth, right? I mean it's. It takes time. It takes effort to create these relationships and to build the trust. You've got to start somewhere. If it's helpful for people, I, for our new associates, i'll touch base every two weeks for at least the first few months, because they're just getting off the ground. That's. I want to know if something's not right, and a lot can change quickly.Stacey Cordivano:
Yeah, that is really helpful to have that benchmark, I think.Kim Harmon:
Then I check in with them Do you want to extend the interval? I just I ask. It's it sounds simple, like are you good with this? Do you want to extend the interval? What's best for you? And then usually at about the quarter mark we go to when they've been with us for three months, go to once a month, and I've been holding that for at least their first year with us Great. And then, as I mentioned, quarterly with one of our associates. She's been with us for over five years. So then usually things are more set.Stacey Cordivano:
Yeah, perfect, i like that, i like that time frame And it's going to be individual. So I think asking your employees is probably probably one of the more important things. Coming from a small practice perspective, i do one-on-ones kind of all the time, but that doesn't mean that I still don't have to make them intentional. Initially, when my associate joined, we were meeting weekly Friday mornings And she's gotten a little busier. I've gotten a little busier. They fell off a bit And I just realized that I want to start at least every other week something on the calendar Because, like you, i see her every day. We check in about cases, but that's not really checking in about how she's doing what she's needing. Are there things that she wants to change, things like that? So same goes. And or, if you're a solo practitioner and you have one technician, you're in the car all day long. Maybe just block off a specific drive time that you're going to talk about something a little bit more than just what's upcoming that day.Kim Harmon:
Yeah, i think the key there is we fall into a mode of being transactional. This is what I need, this is what we have ahead of us. This is what's on the daily plan. I need this, that whatever. It's a deeper question than that. To your point, stacey, about setting aside time, i love that, just even if it's in the truck. Just how's it going? What do you need?Stacey Cordivano:
It also reminds me one resource that our subcommittee has come up with is education around stay interviews. So actually you help with that, so why don't you talk a little bit about that resource?Kim Harmon:
Yeah, Chrissy Schneider helped put it together. Mostly It's a construct around how to have a conversation to get the feedback that we need to keep somebody from leaving in the first place, So to help with retention of the great employees that we bring into our worlds how do we keep them happy? How do we know about problems before they're too big for us to solve? So it's a nice construct and, I think, very user friendly, not a big lift. You can just take it right from PDF and just walk in and ask the questions. And I think the most important piece is to listen. It's hard for me as a leader at times I feel defensive of the work that I've put in. So if someone's not happy, there's a part of me that's like well, wait a minute. What I do wrong? So I get the most out of a conversation if I can listen more than I talk, really try to understand and ask questions and stay curious about why somebody might be thinking of leaving our practice.Stacey Cordivano:
Yeah. So if you are listening to this and have no idea what to do in a one-on-one sit-down meeting with your associates, I'll link that resource so that you can grab it, because I think that it is, like you said, easy lift. Okay, next type. We're only on to number two.Kim Harmon:
Oh boy, okay. A decision-making meeting is another kind of meeting. so you need to pull people together to decide something so you can move forward. When having these meetings any type of meeting you have I think it's a good practice to call out what the goal is of the meeting so everybody knows the rules of the game. So if you walk into a decision-making meeting and people are thinking you're just going to be brainstorming, then the expectation isn't set from the outset. Let people know what the goal is before they're walking in. Okay, for us, a decision-making meeting would be like our own call schedule. We get together as doctors, i have a skeleton and then we got to fill in the holes. Who's going to do what? What do we need? How's it going to work?Stacey Cordivano:
Let's figure all that out together And I think for me, as a smaller practice, that happens a little easier. It can almost happen in passing. So one example I can think of for an intentional kind of decision-making meeting is when I get together with my associate and talk about equipment purchases. So can we afford it? How much do we think we'll use it, How long will it take to pay it off? Things like that. Okay, so that's a second kind. What's another type of meeting?Kim Harmon:
A problem-solving meeting. We have a problem, Let's come together And in some ways it's a mix of two kinds of meetings, I think, one being the decision and the other being a brainstorming meeting. You know you're trying to get to a better resolution. An example that came up for us recently that we're trying to problem-solve We run our fecals in-house on a parasite machine. It came up that some of our technicians were struggling to find the time to run all of the fecals So they'd come back off the road. At the end of the day They'd have 20 fecals to run. That's going to take at least an hour and hour and a half. If they're coming off the road 5, 6 o'clock, that's adding a significant amount of time to the end of their day. On the business side of things, we have a bigger margin from running the fecals in-house prepared to sending them out. So trying to balance the operational needs of the team with the business needs of the practice.Stacey Cordivano:
Yeah, i love that example because it's such a great example of where psychological safety comes into play and how you handle it either slashes the psychological safety of the practice or builds it up. So by gathering people together to get multiple different perspectives you know, technician perspective, office perspective, veterinarian perspective, owner business manager perspective and then coming up with a collective solution using everyone's ideas like that just bumps psychological safety up. So far And like you and I are like okay, profit margin, we have to keep it in-house. But maybe someone else comes up with some amazing idea that combines the two that we never would have thought of. So I think that's so cool, okay.Kim Harmon:
Fourth type of meeting The brainstorming meeting, and I like these meetings. Again, i think the key to success with a brainstorming meeting or an idea sharing meeting is to be clear that that's what it is going in And to let people know okay, we just want to get ideas on the table here. We may not get to a full decision at the end of this meeting, but I just want to have a space where people can put their ideas on the table and let's talk about what could work. The most recent way that I approached this, or example on our team, was we were getting more feedback that we had a higher caseload in the hospital than we were used to having and our interns were getting tired, our staff was getting run thin, and this seemed to be happening more and more. It wasn't just a one-off week here or there, it seemed to be happening more. So got some key players in a room. We included our interns, our staff lead in the hospital and some practice leaders and said, okay, let's talk about what the problem. We agree that there is a problem. We agree that there's something that needs to change here, but we may not agree on how to change it, so let's talk about ideas around. Where the change needs to be. Is there a new staff hires? Is there an additional intern? Is there? how do we plug these holes in the best way? Let's get some ideas out there.Stacey Cordivano:
I think your point about framing that correctly is really important, because I think if you were going to walk into a meeting thinking you were going to solve that problem and the leadership did not have that goal and then you left without solving it, it would feel really discouraging Totally. So I think that framing it as just a brainstorming meeting, like not a solutions meeting, is really important. I like that.Kim Harmon:
I don't know that.Stacey Cordivano:
I've ever done that.Kim Harmon:
I think it gave people my impression being in the room was it gave people license to talk about stuff and that could get us to a better place. Key, there is follow-up after that. So like, okay, we took all these ideas, what are we going to do with them? We need to circle back and check in and let people know that action is taking place.Stacey Cordivano:
Yeah, and maybe like why there So suggestion can't work, or yeah.Kim Harmon:
Right Yeah.Stacey Cordivano:
That's a really important point Yeah.Kim Harmon:
And with those brainstorming sessions, especially when we involve people at different, vastly different roles in the practice, there's just going to call it out. There's going to be a power dynamic. There's going to be. You know, if I'm a leader sitting in the room, if I say my idea first, whether it's conscious or unconscious, some people are going to align with me. So that's going to blind me in many cases to some other ideas that may be out there. And I want all those different ideas so that we can get to the best possible solution. One way that I've tried to engage people and I did in that moment was we pass out like note cards and ask everybody before anybody says an idea, throw your idea on the note card. Before anybody speaks, let's throw an idea on the note card and then go around and share those ideas so that way I don't bias the room. Yeah, basically is what I'm looking to try to, not do.Stacey Cordivano:
I love that. I was just reminded I was listening to a podcast about giving and receiving feedback recently and they made this point that within our practices there are just inherently different stakeholders and desires. The front office is really trying to please the clients not that they're not also trying to please their boss but we all have these different roles and I think acknowledging that and making that okay to then throw in all these ideas is kind of important, or at least that leadership makes that known, that they realize that everyone has slightly different goals. Hopefully the goal is for those same practice values ultimately, but I like the note card idea. I really like that, Okay. Fifth type of meeting The team building.Kim Harmon:
These can take a number of different forms. I think it could be you may be doing it and not even realizing you're doing it. if you ever do a night out with your team or if you bring breakfast in for your team, those are team building moments?Stacey Cordivano:
Yeah, because I think of like going to the ropes course and like doing trust polls.Kim Harmon:
You can do that too.Stacey Cordivano:
Make it your own, that's a big deal though. Bringing breakfast is a way less big deal.Kim Harmon:
Yeah, well, and I think that's the key to like I'm joking about it a little bit make it your own, but you got to find what works for you. If it's something as easy of a lift as grabbing breakfast for people or, you know, ordering it in or whatever it is, that's that's team building. I didn't give this the credit. I think it's really do for some time, but there was, from a data perspective, an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review in 2022 that was looking at toxic culture and why people were leaving their jobs. It's not veterinary specific, but it looked at glass door reviews for hundreds of people And they looked at what were the drivers to keep people in their roles beyond additional compensation. So you know, i think one of the things that can fatigue many of us is when we ask our staff what is it that you want? and the answer is more money.Stacey Cordivano:
Okay, what else, what else same.Kim Harmon:
What else could we do to move that needle? and what this study found was that, at a list of top four things that could be drivers lateral career opportunities, so being able to change roles without leaving. not everybody wants to be promoted, they might just want to change of pace remote work arrangements, predictable work schedules. But the last one was company sponsored social events.Stacey Cordivano:
I wouldn't sell these things short. Yeah, for the value they can bring to help create connection and team.Stacey Cordivano:
Certainly some of those four don't necessarily apply to equine practice, mobile work, Well, and that's not totally true. I think we could probably up our telemedicine game, But I remember hearing that and thinking, I don't know, that people want to hang out at the clinic more than they have to to socialize. but that probably begs the question like is there a way to do it during the work day? Right, like you said, bring in breakfast. everyone's already there prepping their day. Is there a way to have a potluck close early one day and have a potluck dinner, something like that.Kim Harmon:
We got feedback from our staff last year that people wanted more social gatherings, and so we tapped on a couple of our people who were really excited about this to create these opportunities, and then not a lot of people came.Stacey Cordivano:
So it was definitely a check to your point, stacey, about like will they really be willing to come after hours. Our answer was some people will, some people won't.Stacey Cordivano:
I guess it would still benefit the people that want to come though right, Like, maybe you're not hitting every person, but you're at least improving engagement for those who do find it beneficial. Like my thought is like oh, if not everyone comes, it's a failure. But like, is it actually a failure?Kim Harmon:
I don't think it's a failure if you have some engagement of the team. The people that were there were really happy to be there. So that was, you know, good for that crew. And to your point about during kind of daytime, we have some better attended social events that have been mainstays in our practice for some time. We have an intern party to celebrate the end of our internship year and a holiday party. So those they're not very often And I think that helps too. So we don't try to, you know, have these every week and people fatigue fast of doing them, but having a couple to try to draw as many people in. We also do some more formal team building meetings in our group. One is around. We have an annual engagement survey that comes out, So we have a meeting with our team to discuss the results of that engagement survey, share what that look like and get some buy-in for the team around. Creating specific priorities helps, I think, for everyone to recognize we can't fix everything all at once. So to create a top two to three listed priorities to focus our energy.Stacey Cordivano:
So we involve the whole team in that Okay, so they're involved in creating those top couple of priorities Okay.Kim Harmon:
We have one meeting with our Connecticut team, one meeting with our Florida team. They may have different priorities, want different things.Stacey Cordivano:
Got it.Kim Harmon:
Everybody's there. We block out a couple hours. I think we did three hours this year to block that out, to come up with that list and talk through the results. Then we also have what we tongue and cheat call our mega meeting every year, which is our whole organization. Everybody comes to Connecticut. The first year we did it it was a half day. Last year when we did it It was a full day. We get it catered. It's expensive, it takes a lot of time, it takes a lot of effort, but I think it helps. Gosh, i really hope it helps.Stacey Cordivano:
So literally everyone from all the different satellite cloning circuit.Kim Harmon:
that's a big endeavor It is, and I've got a really great team that helps me with logistics, which is not a strength of mine to fly everybody in. It is a big undertaking, but again I hope that it's worthwhile. Our first year we created a list of agreements about how we would behave and treat each other as a group, as a whole organization.Stacey Cordivano:
I love that.Kim Harmon:
Example to take care of our home with respect, which means you're going to keep things clean and tidy. Take the time to teach new skills was one of them. Again, whole team coming together face to face. I think there is some magic that happens when you get everybody together face to face.Stacey Cordivano:
I imagine so, i imagine so And I imagine not a lot of people are doing that, even in one location. I would imagine no one's taking a whole day off to do that internal work. So that's amazing, definitely an inspiration. If you guys all can do it, i feel like a lot of us should probably be working harder to do that.Kim Harmon:
Okay, any other types of meetings we need to discuss The only other one I'd call out is the status update meeting, which this I would just caution. If you're just telling people what's happening, consider if it could be an email. I think of a productive meeting when I need there to be, or want there to be, conversation, a sharing of ideas back and forth. If I just need to tell you that something is happening so and so is taking the day off, so and so is coming in. If it's just a sharing of information, it might be better use of time to just put that in an email.Stacey Cordivano:
Agreed. Alrighty, we're going to wrap here for today and start the next episode talking about how to prepare to effectively run one of these previous types of meetings. So we'll cover a lot more actionable info. I don't want to overwhelm you. Stay tuned. In a couple of days I will release part two of this conversation with Dr Kim Harmon. Talk to you soon. Thank you again so much for the time and energy you share with me. I so appreciate you listening. If you want to find out more from me, check out thewholeveterinariancom or find me on Instagram at thewholeveterinarian. And if you enjoyed today's episode, please do me a favor and share it with one friend or colleague who you think might benefit. I hope you have a great week and I will talk to you again soon.