Build that team!

Feb. 1, 2000
To elevate your office to the level of success you desire, use three `ate` words: communicate, motivate, educate.

To elevate your office to the level of success you desire, use three `ate` words: communicate, motivate, educate.

Pat White, CDA

Team-building is esteem-building. This is as true in the dental practice as it is on the football field or in any other endeavor where people have to work together to achieve a common objective.

How do we build a team? How do we take the various professionals and support people working in a dental practice and merge them into a smoothly operating unit? We do this by making every member of the team feel important and by showing, in big and small ways, that each employee is valued for what he or she does. Humans want and need to feel unique, or at least valued as individuals. And, unless they feel that they and their work are looked at in this light, you will never have a team.

How do you make people feel important? It isn`t hard, but it requires sincerity and consistency. It`s ludicrous to have an annual staff luncheon and "honor" everyone for their respective contributions if you ignore them the rest of the year. Nor will pay raises or bonuses alone "honor" your team members. Monetary gifts will help, but they only can go so far.

You need to start with a plan for team - and esteem - building and stick with it. You can`t build a house without bricks and mortar. Likewise, you can`t build a team without the proper basic ingredients.

Are your staff members emotionally qualified to do their jobs? Since dentistry is a people business, take a look at the staff members in your practice who interact with patients. Ask yourself if they are practicing good people skills. Courtesy is important, but compassion is critical, since so many patients approach the dental chair with fear and/or nervousness.

If your staff members have these positive traits and the intelligence and human desire to learn and prosper, then you have the foundation to build their esteem. If these characteristics are lacking, try to determine if retraining or redirection is possible. Also, consider the possibility that some of your staff members may be square pegs you are trying to fit into round holes.

While you are determining who has appropriate people skills, take a look in the mirror. Ask yourself how well you`re doing as the doctor in charge and the one who should be setting the highest professional example. Maybe, after many years of practice and an infinite number of busy days, you`re not showing the empathy and patience that you should. A little self-evaluation never hurts. Give yourself a pep talk if you need it.

Now that you have a staff that you have determined to be ready, willing, and able, the team-building process can begin.


Communication is pivotal in team-building. In all cases, help to build an attitude of good communication.

At staff meetings, each team member should have an opportunity to express his or her concerns, or at least report on new events and/or new information that is pertinent to the team. The person facilitating the meeting might have to draw out more reticent staff members, but the opportunity to speak out and be heard is an important step in making each team member feel important and in building esteem.

Does someone take minutes at staff meetings? If so, are those minutes later distributed to all team members? It`s important for you to review the minutes periodically and see that promises made in staff meetings are kept. Follow-up is sometimes necessary to answer a question posed at a meeting. People will not feel important and will not believe they have the ability to affect their surroundings if they only are given a platform at a staff meeting. If they see that their remarks bring results, they know their opinions are valuable.

But communication doesn`t begin and end in staff meetings. You and your staff should chat on an ongoing basis in the course of daily business. If something needs to be more urgently conveyed, a staff bulletin may need to be produced. Remember: To communicate with your staff members is to show them that you feel they are important.


Let staff members know that they`re a part of the team by having them share in the goal-setting process of the practice, and by providing a clear set of rewards along the way once the goals are achieved. Working together toward a goal with plenty of carrots tied to the stick helps to build that team.


As you seek to demonstrate each team member`s individual worth, nothing works better than investing in the future through education and professional development. For example, for the dental assistants on your team, membership in the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA) always has been an important part of professional development. Some dentists have recognized this fact by paying all or part of their assistants` dues. There are many benefits to membership in professional organizations.


What has been said in this story is very basic, but very important. To build a team, make sure you have the right people to form the building blocks for a successful practice.

For more information about this article, contact the author by fax at (312) 541-1496. A biography of the author appears on page 8.

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