Building the ultimate team

Jan. 1, 2003
Building a dental team is one of the most challenging and difficult managerial tasks in dentistry. Even if you have a business degree, you may still know very little about building a staff and managing people.

By Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, FACD

Building a dental team is one of the most challenging and difficult managerial tasks in dentistry. Even if you have a business degree, you may still know very little about building a staff and managing people.

This is a tough time for staffing. The current shortage of trained personnel in this industry is growing to crisis proportions, which dramatically affects the stress level of dentists and reduces their practice production. We are spending more time and money to interview, hire, and educate team members than ever before, and often end up with less-qualified staff than in the past. Levin Group studies show that, today, more than 50 percent of all dental practice's exeperience staff turnover in less than four years.

Team-building challenges

Dentists all over the country ask me where to find excellent team members. The answer? You don't find them — you build them.

How can you build a great dental team?

1. Recognize that team-building is continuous. It can't be done between patients. Trying to do that leads to stress and frustration as doctors follow up on staff members who don't really understand their jobs. Set time aside for specific training, out-of-office activities, and performance discussions.

2. Script all conversations. Every routine conversation within the practice should follow a written script; it's one of the best training tools you can provide your team. For those opposed to scripting — how do you expect your team to learn those critical communication skills that help to build a practice?

3. Job descriptions should be written for every team member. If the practice expects to collect 98 percent of production, then that objective should be included in the financial coordinator's written job description. The coordinator should be given support training and appropriate scripts.

4. Commit to becoming a better leader. Leadership is not a genetic trait, and it's a skill that isn't taught in dental schools. Leadership is gradually learned through courses, books, and mentors. The investment in leadership will pay dividends over and over again.

5. Pay your best staff well. Your best staff members are essential and you need to keep them. Perhaps you need to pay them 10 percent more than the highest market rates in your area to keep them from leaving for a dollar or two more an hour. Compensate them well so that your practice can retain their valuable knowledge and skills.

6. Document systems in each area of the practice. The number one goal you should have for staff is to document expert systems for dental practices. This is the fastest way to train current and new team members. Completing this task lowers staff stress levels and thus reduces turnover. Reduced turnover and more efficient use of systems results in greater income.


The goal of team-building is not keep your team indefinitely. These days, we can assume that we will have different team members over the years. Often when one member of a long-term team leaves, others follow. In a flash, your practice may go from well-oiled machine status to well-rusted. Also, staff turnover creates unnecessary stress. You may find yourself putting up with inferior staff simply because it seems easier than making a change.

If you implement these recommendations immediately, you can create a great staff, train new members, and produce the superior results you need to meet your goals. Remember — the goal of team building is to help ordinary people do extraordinary things.

Roger P. Levin, DDS, MBA, president and CEO of The Levin Group and the Levin Advanced Learning Institute, provides worldwide leadership in dental management for general dentists and specialists. Contact The Levin Group at (410) 654-1234.

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