Today was one of those Thursdays that felt like a Monday. You know the ones. You got up late (thanks to a cute four-year-old with a 2am stomachache 🥴 ) and barely made it to work on time. It was your day to run the huddle and well, yeah…not the best meeting ever. The practice owner didn’t say much about it. Was that a good thing or a not-good thing? You had the usual number of cancellations, which is always hard. Worst of all was that $5,000 case that was canceled, the one you worked so hard to get scheduled.
As you sit at your desk, trying to hold it together, someone knocks on the door. It’s Katie, your lead hygienist. Without saying a word, she puts a little box on your desk with a note and leaves just as quickly. You’re pretty sure it’s not your birthday as you carefully open the box. It’s an Oreo cupcake from your favorite bakery. How did she know? As you try holding back the tears you open the note and read “You are amazing! Especially on hard days. We’re so lucky to have you! ❤️ Katie & friends.” Everyone else on the team has also signed the note. Suddenly everything’s okay. You were thought of. Friends that you know are also busy and stressed and who have all their own stuff to deal with took a moment to think of you. You truly have the best team ever.
What makes a great team? There are probably dozens of good answers that could be given to this question. For leaders in a dental practice, especially if you’re an office manager, this is something you likely spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about, and for good reason.
When a team isn’t working well together, everything is harder. Work becomes something that people dread. Efforts to grow are stifled. Even patient care is impacted. It’s fair to say that if a desire to help people is what leads many people into dentistry, working with a great team is what keeps them there.
At Dental Intelligence, we’re all about helping individuals and dental practices to grow in ways that matter to them. Much of this growth happens because a team is thriving. In other words, building a great team is critical to everything a dental practice wants to achieve. From our work with over 8,000 dental practices, we’ve learned a lot about what makes a great team great! Here are five principles that will help any practice reach its potential and succeed like never before.
Noted author and motivational speaker Patrick Lencioni has spent significant time studying and writing about what makes a great team. According to him, one of the keys is to have a clear and unified purpose or, in his words, a ready answer to the question “Why do we exist?” Is this a question you and your team could answer? Do you have a practice mission or cause that everyone knows and understands? If so, that’s a great beginning.
Now for the hard question – if you have a practice vision, is it relevant to each team member? This is where the real work happens. Having a vision is so important, but if it isn’t important to everyone in the practice, there is still work to do.
If you haven’t yet defined what your practice vision is, no worries. Start simple. Schedule time as a team for a few minutes each week and gather input from everyone. Then write out a short, simple mission statement that captures the things that matter most to your team. It doesn’t need to be fancy or eloquent. It just needs to express what your practice is about and why you do what you do.
Several years ago, leaders at Google set out to discover what makes the “perfect” team. They assumed there were a few easily defined characteristics common to effective teams that could then be followed and replicated throughout the company. More than three years into this project, code-named “Aristotle,” they had yet to discover the secret recipe for an effective team. That’s when they learned about research that had been done around the concept of psychological safety by Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson.
Here’s how Edmonson defined this idea in her 1999 study: ‘‘Psychological safety is a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. It is a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish someone for speaking up.” She added that this ‘‘describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.’’ This was the breakthrough Google leaders had been looking for. It changed how each team and, ultimately, how the entire company operated.
With this insight in mind, what is the culture of your team? Is it a safe place? Do team members feel free to be themselves without risk of judgment or punishment? Do they feel validated? Are your team huddles collaborative and conversational or do you or the owner do most of the talking? When someone succeeds in reaching a goal, is that achievement celebrated?
Here’s what we know is true: When people feel like their voice matters; when they believe they are contributing to something larger than themselves; and when they feel safe enough to be vulnerable, incredible things will happen. Creating this type of culture is very difficult and requires relentless focus. Expect setbacks and even some discouragement along the way. But don’t give up. Creating a safe, thriving, and collaborative practice culture will pay enormous dividends. It’s the best investment you’ll ever make in your practice.
How do you handle accountability in your practice? Does each team member feel a responsibility for your growth and success? How has that developed? Developing a culture of accountability is more than just assigning different jobs to team members. For example, we talked recently with a practice where the office manager had struggled to get help from team members to answer the phone when she was assisting a patient with something. At first, she was upset by their apparent lack of support and wanted to give them a piece of her mind.
With some additional thought, she realized she hadn’t had a meaningful discussion with team members about how important it was for everyone to look out for each other. After she did so, there was a dramatic shift in the culture of accountability in this practice. Everyone agreed to step up their game. This had an incredible impact on the team and the practice. Both saw measurable improvements.
Data shows that when an employee feels their job has meaning and they feel accountable for their performance, performance improves. Yet another opportunity to collaborate on developing a culture of accountability. Doing so is going to pay big dividends for you.
At the most basic level, communication consists of sending and receiving information. Beyond this definition lies the greatest challenge and opportunity for any organization along the path to greatness. Great teams succeed because they have learned how to effectively communicate with each other and with their customers. As a dental practice, understanding your team’s communication style is an important first step. At the heart of great communication is active listening or listening to understand instead of just hearing what someone says. Is listening to understand at the heart of your team’s communication efforts?
Not to belabor this point, but great communication must be a part of your practice culture. Vulnerability is key. As Google learned in its study of great teams, psychological safety means that all team members feel safe expressing themselves. Or as author and research professor Brené Brown wrote in her book Rising Strong, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.” If you want to build a great team, get really good at clear, engaged, and caring communication. Doing so isn’t optional.
A data-driven practice is one that is built upon and guided by the facts, meanings, and feelings relating to their key performance indicators (KPIs). A data-driven practice embraces the insights received from data, even if those insights reveal flaws in leaders or systems. Problems are viewed as exciting opportunities to change and transform into something better. Perhaps most importantly, a data-driven practice is powered by a collaborative, blame-free culture that invites ownership and servant-leadership from all team members.
Dental practices have always cared about data. Knowing what is happening with each patient by tracking probe measurements and taking frequent radiographs is data. Knowing how each team member is performing and whether they are reaching their potential is data. Data = Important information about an organization or individual. In today’s dental practice, understanding what your data means and what to do about it is vital to the growth of your practice.
Measuring progress and making the effort to talk together about the stories in your data is a map you can follow to move your team from good to great. Using a platform like Dental Intelligence enables a practice to quickly see what is happening, understand what it means, and most importantly, know what to do. Creating a data-driven practice will take your practice to the next level and will yield huge wins for your patients and team.
At Dental Intelligence, we’re committed to helping your practice grow. We’d love to help you see where you are, so you can achieve the goals that are most important to you. Visit us today to request your free practice analysis.