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It is important to devote quality time to challenge yourself and your teams on whether there is a need to strategize and rethink the way you are conducting teleconferences for your clinical trials.
If you are one of those people who are not excited after finishing one of those long team teleconferences as a clinical trial project leader, or as a contributor, you need to read on.
With traditionally a limited budget of project team teleconference units, there is a constant focus to make them efficient and useful for the team. But why is it that following the majority of team calls, project teams mostly come out with a feeling that their presence really did not make a difference or it was done as a routine requirement without quantifiable outcomes?
All of us at some point in time have felt this, especially if you are in a time zone where you have to crawl out of your bed or stay awake at odd hours to attend calls, which are mostly classified as “business critical.”
So, are we as project leaders utilizing these limited teleconference units in the most efficient way? In most cases, we do not.
My approach to improving the quality of these meetings, and for teams to feel engaged and involved, are based on a combination of participation in other team calls, personal experience of changing the way I lead calls, and also spending time to understand what works for a specific project or team.
If you want to reflect on how your calls can be improved and made more inclusive, you primarily need to spend time to understand the type and number of communications on your project. This helps you understand the focus areas in order of priority to tweak your meeting agenda accordingly, instead of following a routine clinical trial teleconference agenda format of meeting.
While this is not a complete list, some of the following points may help to customize your own approach:
1) All topics in one call, or have focus areas per call?
- One of the most common errors is to line up different departments in the same call and try to get updates or check queries with an aim to complete all of this in one hour.
- With this approach, we tend to rush through all the sections every week and end up with a feeling that most of the project team members had to breeze through their areas and a few of them did not even get a chance to speak.
- Therefore, a better alternative is to create a fluid agenda, where the topics to be discussed for the study can be altered every other week by separating topics and creating two agendas-in order to focus time on lesser topics in one call and to have lesser attendees specific to those topics. This requires more work initially to separate out agendas and meeting invites to split attendees, but works very well for internal calls, as we find higher focus and time to review in greater depth the issues around a specific contributor.
2) Engage your team and be in control
- Understand what you want from your team or what they need by involving them during your call planning phase to clarify expectations.
- We don’t want to use this time to review what we know, but meet to discuss time-bound action plans or discuss resolutions, so team’s involvement is vital for your call success.
- Look at each team’s issues and needs and add slides, which will focus the key status, open queries you want responses for, and prepare action plans.
- Remember, don’t go to teams asking them to repeat the status or appear that you might have missed an important update; that should have been obvious to you as a project leader. We need to keep a track of tasks and ask questions on open issues; nobody likes repeating status updates.
- The team will be more engaged if you know the status and ask for specific additional information, which shows that you are in control.
3) More slides, the merrier? Not really
- The outcome of your meeting is dependent on the amount of information to be discussed and how it’s presented in the slides.
- So, having a practical and workable limit on your slides is crucial to keep the team engaged and to complete the review in the time slot.
- The metrics and data on the slide should be organized in form of pivot charts and graphs to allow the team to identify the critical areas, sites, or tasks.
- The slides should be able to present data in which a team member can see what’s outstanding from him or her at a project, country, or site level depending on the person’s role as project leader. This ensures that messaging is targeted to the specific team member for action.
- They need to customize the slides data prepared for internal calls to contribute to the majority of data for client calls, as per their specifications. It will ensure efficiency of time on the preparation for teleconferences.
4) Meeting minutes-complete or actions log
- This is one task in absence of a project support designee that impacts project leader quality time to summarize and discuss open action items.
- Unless there are specific client needs, always suggest the use of an “Action Decision Log” instead of full-detailed meeting minutes for each call.
- In cases where a detailed set of meeting minutes is expected, ask your support team to create abridged versions with actions linked. This ensures the team stays focused on the content, as several large summaries of minutes will not be helpful.
- The combined Action Decision Log allows us to maintain centralized tracking of all critical decisions and actions, and to act as a ready reckoner, instead of us trying to review past meeting minutes for a history of how decisions were made.
- The project lead needs to be efficiently maintaining the log whenever that is confirmed as source of all important discussions at the site.
- In most cases, clients are not keen to use an automation/drive interface (ADI) log, but the advantages of call recording as a supporting option need to be highlighted to ensure efficiency of post teleconference tasks.
With clinical trial budgets shrinking, project-team call units are also impacted, leaving the project leader to explore new ways to make them efficient and useful to a clinical program.
With project leaders handling the conduct of teleconferences in a more efficient way, communications will improve to the point of reducing email load by ensuring our teleconferences provide a platform for all team members to provide updates and obtain responses.
Complex studies and projects need to be conducted with quality investment in teleconferences-with all teams available on the call-but we also can agree that companies, while innovating in several areas of clinical trials, have not experimented with new ideas of teleconference management other than the technology component.
Therefore, it is important to devote quality time to challenge yourself and your teams on whether there is a need to strategize and rethink the way you are conducting teleconferences for your clinical trials.
Somaraju Lokaranjan is Associate Project Director, Syneos Health. He can be reached at Lokaranjan.firstname.lastname@example.org