Creating high-powered teams

July 1, 2003
In the mid-1980s, several practice-management experts recommended that dentists quit using the term employee and refer to staff members as team.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA

In the mid-1980s, several practice-management experts recommended that dentists quit using the term employee and refer to staff members as team. The idea behind the change was to create an environment where staff was encouraged to work together in harmony to achieve practice goals.

Unfortunately, building a dental team is one of the most challenging aspects of operating a practice. In an era when national staff turnover statistics average 3.5 years, developing and maintaining a high-powered team is more important than ever. Developing excellent skills and attitudes is critical to practice success. By accomplishing this goal, proper business systems become easier to implement and reinforce.

A staff's inability to work as a team can cost a dental practice tens of thousands of dollars each year in lost production and profit. More significantly, a lack of teamwork often translates into high stress levels, chaotic work environments, poor customer service, and increased overheads. Following is a case study of a Levin Group client.

SITUATION — The practice came to us with these statistics:

• Annual production – $750,000
• Work days per week – 4
• Total treatment chairs – 5
• Number of staff – 5
• Overhead – 69 percent

CHIEF COMPLAINT — The doctor's practice was in total chaos. The staff was unable to work together, and the practice had extensive system breakdowns and a record of poor customer service. This led to low morale and a negative work environment.

SOLUTIONS — We suggested the following strategies to help the doctor create a high-powered team and document effective management systems to accomplish practice goals:

1.Create a vision statement that focuses on where the practice is heading and to provide direction. To reinforce the message, the dentist discussed the vision often with the team and made sure it was read at morning meetings.

2.Develop a system for excellent customer service. The practice initated a patient survey to evaluate the quality of customer service. The team discussed the results and implemented a system designed to improve the patient experience at every visit.

3.Enhance the team's verbal skills. We evaluated patient communication skills and trained the team to use scripts to communicate a clear, consistent, effective message to patients, including positive and enthusiastic benefit statements.

4.Plan effective staff meetings. Staff meetings became a forum to discuss office policies. The dentist began reporting on the practice's progress and used the meetings to train the team on new systems. Clear agendas provided beforehand gave the team time to prepare.

ΠMotivate the team. The doctor agreed that employee morale boosters, such as pizza parties and gift certificates, were not effective motivators because they were not tied directly to performance. We recommended a production-based bonus system instead, which would motivate by providing positive reinforcement for excellent job performance.

œ Promote job ownership. The dentist asked his team to write job descriptions for their roles. In addition, each person created a checklist for daily activities to facilitate consistent completion of tasks.

In 12 months this doctor increased annual production by 23 percent, from $750,000 to $925,000, by building a high-powered team. Additional benefits included higher staff morale, improved customer service, lower stress, and more predictable, organized practice operations.

High-powered teams that successfully work together create an enjoyable work environment and secure efficient practice operation. Developing such a team is not just about motivation. It is about providing the team with responsibilities, accountability, skills, and directions. This is best achieved through the consistent documentation and implementation of business systems, followed by excellent leadership.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, is founder and CEO of Levin Group, Inc., the leading dental management consulting firm specializing in implementing documented business systems into dental practices. Levin Group is dedicated to improving the lives of dentists through proven dental practice management and marketing consulting programs that help practices reach higher levels of success and profitability. Dr. Levin has authored more than 2,500 articles and 48 books on practice management. Levin Group can be contacted at (888) 973-0000 or at www.levin

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