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How should the worth of a practice be determined? By its technology or its service mix? By its location or its interior design? All of these things matter when evaluating a practice, but without an excellent team, you will always struggle to achieve greater productivity.
In today’s difficult economy, that team needs to be better than ever. Why? Because a highly effective team enables the practice to provide better patient care, lower stress, and increased production. A less cohesive team means greater stress and declining productivity.
Although dentists have very capable team members, they often work at cross-purposes, with conflict being the inevitable result. Practices lacking in team cohesion may also deliver less than ideal customer service, which negatively impacts production and ultimately reduces practice profitability. Working toward building a collaborative, cooperative team with a common goal to grow practice production is in everyone’s best interest.
A group of individuals working in the same place is not automatically a team. Teams are created. They do not happen by chance. A true team works well together and does not come apart at the seams when the workday becomes challenging. All dentists should look at their staff and evaluate each individual’s commitment to the team and the practice.
Step 1 — Evaluate the team
The team is critical to practice success. To create the most effective team, the dentist needs a clear understanding of the clinical and verbal skills of all staff members. In the course of day-to-day clinical care, this is not always possible. Time must be set aside to assess the team.
Hold effective staff meetings
Every practice needs to create opportunities for departments to work together and exchange ideas. Morning huddles and monthly staff meetings serve this important purpose. Daily meetings are a chance to review the day’s activities, while monthly team meetings should be reserved for discussing office policies and areas for improvement.
Develop an agenda before each meeting and post it to give the team time to prepare questions and comments. Levin Group introduced the concept of practice production tools to practice-management consulting. One of those tools, the Meeting Maximizer™, helps Levin practices create highly effective staff meetings.
Here is a small element of that tool to help illustrate my point. To successfully determine where your team stands, schedule a meeting where staff can respond thoughtfully to a number of probing questions. The answers will be the first step toward collaboration and improved communications:
- Do you think the team communicates clearly? Consistently? Often enough?
- In what areas can the team improve communication?
- Are there practice processes that could be improved?
- Do you have sufficient access to me or the office manager?
- Do you receive enough feedback about your performance?
- What would be the single most important step we as a team could take to improve our practice?
These questions should be openly discussed as a team. If any questions elicit uncomfortable silences, then set aside time to meet with staff members individually. Most importantly, this exercise should be open and candid. After this meeting, let team members know how their responses will be used to benefit everyone in the practice.
How the team reacts to these queries will give dentists a feel for the practice’s challenges and strengths. The team’s answers will provide insight about what is working in the practice and what is not. In areas where there are clearly deficiencies, team education will be required.
Step 2 — Set goals
Use the information you gathered to set goals for improvement. Share these goals with the team. They will appreciate that you listened to their feedback and, as a result, will be more accepting of the positive changes you wish to make.
Identify and work toward common goals
In many practices, team members do not have the best understanding of practice goals. Many doctors neglect to share information on a broad scale with staff. It is essential to communicate practice goals and information with the team.
For example, everyone on the team is responsible for practice production. If staff members do not know the production target, then it becomes difficult for them to work toward a specific goal. Each practice should have clear goals for production, collections, new patients, average production per new patient, and a host of other targets.
Every team member should understand his or her role in accomplishing these goals so that everyone is motivated toward team achievement. Sharing goals creates group commitment, a purpose for coming to work, and a sense of belonging.
Step 3 — Implement systems
Goals without a plan to accomplish them are just ideas. It’s time to take the goals that have been set and create effective ways to accomplish them. Review practice systems. In their present state, will they turn yearly goals into reality?
In many practices, basic management systems evolve in a disorganized fashion as the office reacts to changing situations and circumstances. The resulting systems hold the practice together, but do not necessarily ensure high levels of efficiency, productivity, and profitability. With step-by-step systems in place, practices will find it easy to build a strong team. Documented business systems allow the office to bring new team members into the practice and train them quickly and more effectively. From scheduling to tray setup, it is important for the team to know exactly what to do.
Step 4 — Train the team
Training and cross-training are important ingredients for continued success and growth. Remember that training is not a finite exercise. It is not something done once and then it is over. It is an ongoing process.
When systems are written in a step-by-step manner with accompanying PowerScripts™, the practice can better train the dental team. This standardized approach benefits both new team members and existing team members who may or may not have an extensive dental background. Training also establishes a level of accountability when combined with job descriptions for each team position.
The instruction of team members is not something that can be effectively accomplished in the time dentists may have between patient appointments. To ensure that team members fully understand their roles, time must be set aside away from patients, and maybe even outside the office, so that the proper focus can be achieved. Monthly meetings are also an opportunity for hands-on training, when the staff can work with scripts and role-playing to help reinforce the practice systems. Everyone wants to work toward something more than just a paycheck. Everyone enjoys additional incentives. One way to spur higher production is through an incentive such as a bonus system.
Step 5 — Drive production with a bonus system
Bonus programs are an excellent way to provide motivation for greater team performance. A shared goal — one that is financially beneficial to each team member — can be a powerful tool for enhanced team effectiveness. Levin Group Production Method™ recommends that the bonus program be based heavily on increased productivity and measured on a two-month cycle. All team members should know where they stand relative to achieving a bonus on a daily basis.
The best way to share this information is to post it in the staff room and review it in morning meetings. The momentum and excitement will build up dramatically as the team gets closer and closer to the bonus. Once the team achieves the goal, doctors can make it even more exciting by having a celebration at lunch or after work.
A strong bonus program not only creates a sense of ownership, but has a significant impact on practice production. An energized team allows the practice to make dramatic strides. Even if team members come and go over the years, the practice culture and strong systems will help new people to be quickly integrated. For a bonus system to be successful, each team member must fully understand his or her role in helping the practice meet its production goals.
Building a high-performance team is one of the most difficult challenges faced by dentists. Yes, the payoff is a strong team that empowers the dentist to achieve higher production and long-term practice success. Working to improve communication, implementing step-by-step systems, and continued staff training are measures every dentist can take. These five action steps can help transform individual staff members into a cohesive team. If the dentist leads the way, the team will be sure to follow.
Let Dr. Levin show you how to enhance team performance. DE readers are entitled to receive a 20% courtesy on Levin Group’s Total Practice Success™ Seminar for general dentists July 23-24 in Chicago. To register and receive your discount, call (888) 973-0000 and mention “DE” or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with “DE TPS” in the subject line. For more information, go to www.levingroupgp.com.
Roger P. Levin, DDS, is chairman and CEO of Levin Group, a leading dental management consulting firm that is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through a diverse portfolio of lifetime services and solutions. Levin Group may be reached at (888) 973-0000, or www.levingroupgp.com.