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6 simple rules for a happy dental team

March 21, 2022
People appreciate being recognized and treated well, and your dental team is no exception. As the leader, it's important for you to set the tone between coworkers—and it's easier than you think.

“Happy wife, happy life” is a famous adage, and in many cases it’s true. Our happiness is often linked to our relationships with those closest to us. In dentistry, our family is our team, and no matter how different or dysfunctional they may be, the relationships between doctor and team members make a big difference in our career enjoyment and how patients perceive our practice. After all, we spend a lot of time with our teams, often more than with our actual family. So, we had better enjoy being together. It’s tough to achieve the dream without a happy team.

Many years ago, I instituted some simple rules in my practice. While they may seem like they’re coming from a kindergarten teacher, I can attest to the fact that these things work. They go a long way toward making the dental office a happy place for everyone, including patients.

Here are my six rules for achieving the dream of a happy dental team.

Remember the magic words

We’ve all known these words since we were four years old, but for some reason dentists think the magic words don’t apply to them. These are, of course, “please” and “thank you.” There’s no reason we can’t add “please” to a simple request like “explorer.” Instead of barking out an order, try “Marcy, pass the explorer please,” followed by “thank you.” It’s just a nicer way to get through the routine days. This applies to any request made of any team member, every single time. The added bonus is that patients notice this.

Use the politeness strategy to create an atmosphere of respect and appreciation

Gossip, backstabbing, and negativity are toxic in a dental office and should be avoided at all costs. The “politeness strategy” dictates we do not say anything about anyone that we wouldn’t say if they were standing in front of us.

Here's an example. Mrs. Jones is a no-show for the second time after being confirmed. In the past you may storm into the break room and proclaim, “Mrs. Jones is so damned irresponsible! Doesn’t she realize she is trashing our schedule? What an inconsiderate jerk!” But what would you say if you knew Mrs. Jones was listening?

“Mrs. Jones is a no-show for the second time in a row. Maybe we didn’t convey to her the importance of her perio maintenance. Or maybe her schedule is just incredibly hectic. Let’s put her on the VIP list so we can serve her better and keep our schedule in better shape.” Get the idea? This also goes for talking about fellow team members and doctors.

Also by Richard Madow, DDS

10 dumb things that smart dentists do

Greet and say goodbye to each team member

This could be the simplest rule of all, and it’s extremely easy. Every morning you enthusiastically greet every team member with hello and a little personal and lightweight conversation. Each evening, tell every team member goodbye and them for a job well done. I urge you to start this immediately.

Hold a well-organized huddle that begins no later than 30 minutes before the first patient

As a dental coach with more than three decades’ experience, I have been in hundreds of dental practices. With the exception of not answering the phone every time it rings, few things bother me more than the doctor who shows up right when the first patient is scheduled, or worse, after. This is a guarantee the day will begin in chaos, with unanswered questions and missed opportunities. Get there well before your first patient, have a minute to catch your breath, grab some coffee, have a well-organized and productive huddle that ends with a motivational quote or joke, and then get to work feeling good and not rushed.

Blame a system, not a person

Things go wrong in dental offices. That’s just reality. But when they do, it’s unproductive to blame it on a person, which causes friction. Everything done in the office should be because of a system or protocol. If your systems and protocols are not working, it’s time to improve them. If a team member consistently refuses to follow the systems, they probably don’t like your office and are ready for a change.

Use the seating chart rule

Of all the suggestions here, following the "seating chart rule" is the best way to preempt team issues. Many years ago, Dave (Dr. David Madow, my brother and cofounder of The Madow Center) and I were preparing for our annual holiday dinner at a nice steakhouse. We arrived early and put out place cards so our team of 16 would know where to sit. The dialogue went something like this: “Well, we can’t put Sally next to Ashley because they’ll just gossip and have private conversations all night. And Dee doesn’t get along with Bernetta, so let’s keep them apart. And hell if I’m sitting next to Linda!” And on and on.

Then it hit us. Why does someone work at The Madow Center if they’re continually gossiping and backstabbing? Why do people who work together not get along? Why is there someone in our own business we don’t even want to sit next to? Our seating chart rule was born. From then on, we did not hire anyone we wouldn’t gladly want to sit next to. Gossips, backstabbers, and troublemakers were not welcome. We all need to get along! We shouldn’t need place cards at the annual holiday dinner!

Managing a dental practice is challenging, and we spend a lot of time there. It’s an absolute necessity to make the office a place that we love going to, and to have a happy team we enjoy spending time with. Please incorporate these six very simple rules into your office, and you’ll be on the way to achieving the dream with a happy team.

Editor's note: This article appeared in the March 2022 print edition of Dental Economics magazine. Dentists in North America are eligible for a complimentary print subscription. Sign up here.

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