June 3, 2022
by Dr. Robert Maguire
Recently, I watched a crew team practice at Nathan Benderson Park in Sarasota, FL. As I watched the team glide effortlessly across the lake, I made three observations. First, I noticed their boat. It had a beautiful wood interior; the outside was shiny and spotless. Next, I noticed the leadership of the coxswain and how she directed the eight rowers. Lastly, I was in awe at the fitness and strength of the rowers, their synchronization, their cadence, and their “flow” as their boat traveled amazingly fast and straight toward the finish line. I summed up all that I observed in one word…alignment.
Having a high-performing, well-aligned dental practice is a lot like being part of a crew team. Let me explain.
First you have your equipment. To perform dentistry at a high level, a dental team needs to have a physical office space that is functional for everyone to work efficiently and one that is appealing to your patient clientele. Also, to do your job well, you need to have the right equipment. In this case, the crew boat or the shell was the functional physical space for the team, and the oars were their major pieces of equipment. In our dental practices, trying to work with subpar equipment is like a crew team trying to win a race with a broken oar.
Next, the dentist needs to lead his team like the coxswain leads the rowers. In my research, I was amazed at the responsibilities of a coxswain.
1. They steer the boat and keeps it on a straight course toward the finish line. This is comparable to making sure that you and your team’s daily activities are always focused on fulfilling your practice mission – in other words, striving for the goals (the finish line) for your practice.
2. Before each race, the coxswain makes sure the team and the boat are lined up and ready to go. In addition, the coxswain is tasked with discussing the race strategy with everyone before the race begins. To me, this sounds like having a morning huddle where everyone gathers to look at the schedule and focuses on a strategy to have a successful day.
3. Throughout the race, the coxswain keeps their eyes on the whole crew, offering direction and encouragement to help them sometimes push through a challenge. Even on the busiest days in our dental practices, it is everyone’s responsibility to offer help, encouragement, and support to one another.
4. Lastly, coxswains constantly communicate with their team throughout the race, and redirect the rowers when necessary. Perhaps one rower needs to row a bit harder or get in sync with the others to help the boat move along more efficiently and more quickly.
This is like a dental team who fills cancellations by working together to fill the voids, perhaps by moving patients around, or by encouraging hygiene patients to remain a bit longer, thus saving an appointment by influencing them to complete their unscheduled treatment that same day. In other words, everyone on the team does their best every day to handle any challenge that may arise and to do all they can to meet the daily goal.
Your dental team members are like the rowers on the crew team. Like these team athletes, your team members need to strive for excellence every day. They need to be committed to the practice mission and keep themselves on top of their game, or what I call “mental fitness,” through continuing education and continuous improvement.
Not only does each team member work on improving their individual clinical and communication skills, but they also strive to work collaboratively as a team. This is where having a clear picture of the mission, vision, and shared values of the practice is essential. When in place, these three entities become “the boss,” setting the behavioral norms for everyone on the team. Imagine what would happen if just one of the eight rowers didn’t feel like rowing or doing their best during a race. Chances are high that they would lose and not meet their goal of winning.
Alignment and practice growth go hand-in-hand. Rowers that have maintained their individual fitness and have spent hours practicing together, often are the ones that win championships. They share the same competitive spirit, communicate well with one another, and all have a burning desire to win. Like the winning crew teams, successful dental practices are not only ones that are technically excellent, but they are also ones that are mission focused, they want to succeed, and they communicate well amongst themselves and with their patients. Here are a few questions to consider.
If that is your desire, think about a crew team and think alignment! See you at the finish line.
About the Author
Dr. Robert Maguire, DDS has practised dentistry for 34 years. He had a successful solo private practice for 28 years in Wolfeboro, NH, and retired in October 2018. He received his DDS from Georgetown University and later earned a master’s degree in strategic communication and leadership from Seton Hall University. He is a past president of the NH Dental Society.Dr. Maguire is now a speaker, author, coach, and consultant, passionate about helping dentists and their teams find more joy, more fulfillment, and more financial success.