Tips for running staff engagement events

NZ seminar

15 / 12 / 2014 11.55am

The following suggestions are based on experience gained across various trusts during the running of a number of events.

  • Avoid lengthy presentations.
  • Try to aim for an interactive approach with presentations focussed on exemplar projects, to show what can be done. Outlining key problems and potential solutions for groups to discuss.
  • Staff tend to respond best to the presentation of two to three options with the provision that you can add you own answer if you have a better one rather than a blank sheet approach.
  • Try to foster discussion, for example, by using cabaret tables and grouping people by area, not by status.
  • Support conversation with facilitation rather than more senior staff leading the discussion.
  • Check acoustics to ensure volume does not become disruptive. Call for time out if noise levels get too high or if one person is dominating discussion. Discussion leaders can help by asking open, and not closed, questions and seek to bring in those that have not spoken.
  • It is not a consultation exercise but a problem-solving one, so it is ok to work with those that have ideas. It is best to have volunteers not conscripts, but this may not always be possible.
  • Staff will need support and training to work at their best as discussion leaders. Many work groups have natural leaders who everyone knows even if they are not actual managers. Staff side representatives may be well suited, although not all will be comfortable with this role.
  • Meetings should not be completely unstructured as this can lead to wasted time and staff will not appreciate this. 
  • Have a clearly laid out set of questions that need to be addressed, with an agenda that everyone has access to, for example, in a hand-out. Allocate time to consider a question before moving on to the next one.
  • Encourage staff to get up, move around and go find others who may help with their ideas.
  • Let staff know that it is ok to have fun and participate even though the objective is serious.
  • Try and record the ideas in the meeting, but avoid verbatim minutes. Dedicated note takers or tools such as write on table cloths can help this. Avoid sequential report backs. A wider range of staff can be encouraged to develop ideas, it is however vital to ensure that ideas are collected in. 
  • Senior leaders need to be prepared to take it on the chin and allow critical comments to be made and avoid personal defensiveness.
  • Take all suggestions seriously and do not dismiss any out of hand.  
  • The senior leader needs to act more as a master of ceremonies than a formal chair. At the end, be clear about who is taking the action forward and when the response will be made. Not having a report back within a reasonable period can destroy confidence in the process.

Further information and learning

There are a range of recognised techniques which have been widely utilised inside and outside the NHS for running large scale events. They range from the traditional talk and chalk style meetings to The World Cafe technique, which has been used for events designed to generate ideas for service improvement, to find out more information visit The World Cafe.

There are a number of trusts who have developed very successful staff engagement events, for example Birmingham Children's, Wigan and Leigh, and South Tees.  For more information contact

You may also want to visit our organisational development webpages for further resources.

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