Practice Management: The Strength of Team

by Larry Wintersteen

How many times have you observed other practices, wishing your team was as effective and professional? Or, how often have you wished you could be only a dentist and not be involved in personnel? Putting together a professional dental team is important for your practice success and peace of mind. It requires effort. People are the natural resource to success, and you must commit to building a Dream Team for your patients and your practice. You must see the power in ‘team’ and be willing to invest time and money.

Envision a Dream Team. Believe that it is possible, through hard work. As you picture it, assume these necessary characteristics:

Your team players are well-trained, teachable and honest with self and team.

Your team players are dedicated to mastering their skills.

Your team players are self-motivated, yet they value other support systems.

Your team players are silently competitive… but they play by the rules and perimeters set down by the organization.

Your team players know how to separate solo performance from team involvement.

Your team players know how to push beyond defeat and disappointment.

Your team players understand the principle of ethically doing what others are not willing to do… in order to achieve EXCELLENCE — and to be a winner.

Define your purpose and your vision

People don’t plan to fail. They simply fail to plan. It is essential that dentists define where they are and where they want to be. Coordinate and balance your plan with your family, your self, your work and your play. Management experts consider this process a “business plan” or “mission statement.” Review your written “road map” frequently to keep you on track:

define efficiency, quality & excellence;

define integrity as it relates to patients, peers & team;

define quality control (business & clinical);

define facility image and environmental standards;

define the kind of patients you prefer to serve;

define your professional focus (interests & specialization);

define what makes your practice different from another dental office.

After carefully putting together your business plan, it is important that you share it with your team. Team players need to understand, endorse and feel good about participating in your practice. It is counterproductive for team players to be a part of something they cannot or do not believe in. In fact it is even more damaging if the doctors aren’t willing to embrace or discipline themselves in this defined business plan. You must believe the plan and work the plan. Furthermore, road maps need to be updated periodically. Don’t always take the same route. There may be a new route since you last looked at the map.

Selecting your team players

Once you have defined who you are and where you want to be, then it is easier to define the type of people you want on your team. The initial interview or evaluation time are extremely important, as you choose your players. Use a good employment application form. Utilize a written performance evaluation on a regular basis. Make certain that you follow privacy guidelines. Always check out references. During the interview or evaluation sessions, incorporate some value/attitude driven questions for perception checking and interaction opportunities. Questions such as these will give you insights to current and future behavior.

Introduce the “What if” game with your potential and existing Team players. Ask interactive questions, such as:

What if you thought you deserved a salary increase. How would you get this message to your employer?

What if one of your team players was not carrying their weight. How would you bring this up?

What if the team saw a need for you to change in some way. How should this be brought to your attention?

What if we asked you to participate in a one- or two-day working interview, BEFORE hiring you? How would you feel about this?

What if you started to doubt or question your employer? How would you approach me?

After selecting your team players, have them identify their professional expectations and their personal growth needs. After all, you have had your turn to explain things and now it is appropriate to listen to them. You should also repeat your practice standards, possible consequences, accountability and responsibilities. It is also important that you explain how team players can win in your practice.

Provide communication opportunities

Surveys indicate a strong need for improved communication in the dental office. Your team players are hungry for open, interactive feedback. Remember, communication and dialoguing are a productive form of preventive management. Avoid crisis management and avoid having to put out fires. Talking to each other is a means to this end. Two important vehicles for facilitating in-office communication are (1) the morning huddle and (2) the monthly team meeting.

The morning huddle is designed to motivate, improve efficiency and prevent possible communication breakdown. Consider the following outline (see sidebar).

The monthly staff meeting is a perfect opportunity to re-generate focus and commitment. Your staff should look forward to a pre-scheduled monthly staff meeting. Schedule for the whole year or at least for six months. Consider this outline (see sidebar).

You can make a difference

Instead of pointing a finger at another person, remember that success and happiness lie within YOU. You know if you are good for your self, the team or the practice. Remember, if you point a finger at others, there are always three fingers pointing back to you. You are in control. Like yourself. Be honest with yourself. Don’t pretend to be something you are not. A Dream Team player is mature, responsible and a self-confident participant. You must also be dependable and fair. Your team players are there to encourage and support you, not cover or make excuses for you.

Be stress hardy

Dream Team players must be ready to tackle interruptions or stress. By choosing to be in a service profession, you have also chosen to participate in occasional disruption or inconvenience. The profession of dentistry alone can create stress. Yet we also know that life in general is full of stressful opportunities. Stress is nothing more than an unscheduled interruption or inconvenience that affects us in a positive or negative manner. The Dream Team needs to be ready for negative stress. It is your choice to redirect that stress or soften the interpretation of the stress –when possible. Stress prevention can bring out the winner in all of us. Therefore, consider the following:

Stress management guidelines

Think and act positively.

Focus on strengths, rather than weaknesses.

Give yourself credit for a job well done.

Talk frequently to a favorite/positive person.

Plan ahead…yet be flexible.

Learn to say “no” and not feel guilty. Know your limitations.

Make time to communicate. Do it…don’t just think about it.

Simplify your life, by eliminating trivia.

Exercise and relax.

Celebrate important events.

Remember, it takes less energy to complete a less pleasant task –right now, than to worry about it all day.

Avoid associating with negative people.

Prioritize your activities and complete the most important ones first.

Watch your diet and maintain proper nutrition.

Holidays, hobbies and vacations are important.

Experience laughter.

Develop ways or support people to bring you back into focus.

Don’t tolerate self-pity.

Mentally anticipate disruption & how you will handle it– professionally/maturely.

Use music to elevate your moods.

Listen to self-improvement audiotapes.

Participate in continuing education.

Examine your choices.

Wisely look at your options.

Zestfully appreciate life and the blessings you have.

Celebrate and honor

Dream Team players are dedicated and work hard. They appreciate representing their team and stretching beyond their comfort level. Consequently, they are hopeful of receiving recognition and/or rewards for going the extra mile. Eac
h player knows the value of pushing themselves beyond the norm. This winning attitude made them part of your Dream Team. They have earned the position and they will maintain the position because of their dedication and sense of belonging. Therefore, it is natural for the coach to provide them with gestures of appreciation.

Give them leadership

Every Dream Team needs a coach they can honor, trust and believe in. Players want to respect the coach and listen to their counsel. The coach will spend time with each player, as needed and methodically direct the entire team to think, function and institute winning plays–together. Remember the importance of providing FOCUS and being an example of SUCCESS! Give them inspiration, direction, correction and protection. Communicate with them on the right subject, at the right time, in the right place, with the right person. Make them feel that you are a part of the Dream Team… not above it.

Larry Wintersteen is a leading consultant, lecturer, author and trainer of dental, medical, and legal professionals. He is also a practice management consultant at the University of Colorado, Dental School, Denver, CO.