Safety, compliance, new products, business policies, customer service and the latest promotion. There is an almost endless list of reasons that the business needs to talk to and engage with their staff. One of the most effective approaches a business can undertake to manage the requirement to engage with staff is a regular Toolbox Talk. But how do you get the most out of them? This weeks HR Highlight explores what a good Toolbox Talk looks like, and how to use it to drive business goals.
What is a Toolbox Talk?
Toolbox Talk, Team Meeting, Weekly Wrap, Work In Progress Meeting…all of these titles amount to the same thing. A regular, semi formal meeting to cover small operational and/or safety requirements with staff.
The Toolbox Talk is typically a gathering of as many staff as possible, at a shift change over, or by regular appointment. This gathering is usually informal and occurs at the workplace, by the toolbox, as it were.
Usually a short meeting (10-15 mins), the Toolbox Talk is hosted by a line or area manager and serves to refresh, build on and reinforce known information or behaviours.
The aim of the Toolbox Talk is to keep a dialogue open with staff and to communicate the small changes and issues facing the business on a regular basis, such as modified processes or equipment introduced, maintenance schedules, holiday period trading and new business policies.
The Toolbox Talk is a way to highlight to staff the things that are important to the business using the concept of A Little Bit Often (ALBO).
The content of the Toolbox Talk will depend on the goals of the business in convening them, and is likely to change and evolve over time. There are, however, elements of the Toolbox Talk that should be standardised to ensure the business gets the most out of the time:
- timing should be regular and predictable;
- attendance, despite the informality, should be actively encouraged;
- manager should note who is absent from the work team, and note to communicate to them the content of the meeting through the minutes;
- meeting should acknowledge the information or suggestions brought forward from the last meeting, thanking staff for the input;
- meeting should have two content elements general and safety;
- meeting should conclude with a call for information or suggestions to be brought forward before next meeting; and
- a copy of the minutes for the Toolbox Talk – noting attendance, topics discussed and a paragraph or two on the information communicated – should be posted prominently in the workplace, to be replaced with the minutes from the most recent Toolbox Talk. Workers absent from the meeting should sign the minute sheet that they have read and understood the information.
Toolbox Talk as appropriate business response
Traditionally Toolbox Talks also have a focus on safety. The continual dialogue on safety matters that the Toolbox Talk provides is a cornerstone of many businesses safety consultation strategy. Over time however, the typical Toolbox Talk has evolved as a key communication tool for everything from business policy and response, to plant and equipment awareness.
The Toolbox Talk also offers the business a chance to strengthen communication of business goals, like ‘Zero Incident’ programs, or even respond to arising issues. If there is a bullying or harassment incident at the workplace, in addition to privately responding to the incident appropriately, it is timely to publicly review the bullying and harassment policies with all staff. The existence of a regular Toolbox Talk allows these sensitive issues to be raised in a natural setting, without drawing attention to any one person, workgroup or issue. The systematic use of Toolbox Talks to communicate what is important to the business, allows the business to use this method to respond to incidents and issues without creating the tangential issue of victimisation or accusations of a ‘lip service’ response.
Training Managers to Talk Toolbox
Hosting a meeting is a skill, and appropriately planning the content of meetings, and managing the exposure of staff to the content is something that many people will need initial instruction in. The business should set into place a standard format and discuss with the managers the aims of the meetings and be prepared to refocus managers on the core point if required.
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