Building a team that works!

For the last 25 years, American businesses have faced increasing competition and uncertainty.

Charles John Palenik, MS, PhD

For the last 25 years, American businesses have faced increasing competition and uncertainty. Change is the order of the day, and companies must be constantly alert.

One response has been the creation of high-performance organizations where each manager and employee has a personal responsibility to contribute to the success of the organization. Effective teams are a critical component of a high-performance organization. Such teams are self-directed, with high levels of employee involvement and little to no managerial hierarchy.

Employees assume more responsibility, have greater authority, attain heightened job skills, and receive extensive training. They are involved in decision making, managing costs, and promoting quality. Employees are expected to be interdependent, self-correcting, and risk-takers. These employees make decisions by consensus, and actively participate in leadership.

Can the concept of high-performance teams be applied to infection control in dentistry? Many dental practices already possess the basic characteristics of a high-performance team and function at high levels of efficiency, safety, and customer satisfaction. The health and safety of patients, practitioners, and the surrounding community establishes a sense of urgency and gives direction.

Do the team members that operate the infection control program in the practice have a shared purpose? Obviously, there is no greater responsibility than the well being of patients and practitioners. For example, infection control failures can have significant negative outcomes. Immunization of at-risk personnel against hepatitis B is an example of a common, shared purpose.

Are the goals for the infection control program specific and current? It is imperative to have measurable outcomes for success. If the goal is to provide sterile instruments chairside for each patient, you must determine a method to monitor the results. The proper materials, equipment, and processes must be identified. In this example, biological monitors (sore test), process indicators such as integrators, appropriate instrument packaging and storage, and observation of proper cycles and temperatures on sterilizers provide a number of measurable goals.

Once measurements have been identified, the team must decide how to consistently achieve the desired outcomes.

A collaborative approach can ensure team success. Open communication is essential. Teams do not exist in a vacuum; they must stay abreast of changing patient needs, improving technology, and the demands made by regulatory agencies.

For example, all team members should be aware of safer needles/sharps that provide proper treatment and are relatively easy to use, yet fulfill the requirements of decreased exposure to occupational risk.

Is each team member's role well-defined and understood? How are decisions made, and who makes them? Although the employer is ultimately responsible for every decision, establishing a health and safety compliance officer within the practice can provide guidance, continuity, supervision, and leadership.

Finally, successful teams possess high-caliber skills to achieve their goals. Skills include a combination of knowledge, abilities, attitude, and experience. Attendance at regular training sessions, in conjunction with in-house discussions and knowledge of emerging technologies, should help ensure the needed skill base.

The Organization for Safety and Asepsis Procedures (OSAP) provides a wealth information for dental practices on its Web site, www.osap.org. Readers are encouraged to visit.

Dr. Charles John Palenik is an assistant director of Infection Control Research and Services at the Indiana University School of Dentistry. Dr. Palenik has authored numerous articles, book chapters and monographs, and is the co-author of the popular Infection Control and Management of Hazardous Materials for the Dental Team. He serves on the Executive Board of OSAP, dentistry's resource for infection control and safety.Questions about this article or any infection control issue may be directed to office@osap.org.

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