Welcome back to Perfecting Your Team. As discussed in our first installment, no one can do a complex dental practice alone. Dentists need a team. Everyone says so. But dentists are not trained in team development, so it isn’t surprising if you are not thrilled with your current results. This series of articles gives you a model for your high performance team and action steps to begin implementation.
Last time, we dealt with the foundation for a good team, trust. In this installment, we look at the next two vital behaviors that can make your team outstanding.
Vital Behaviors of a Team 1
Conflict: Once trust exists, your team is ready for the next level, constructive conflict. Most people have an instinctive fear of conflict. Conflict too often occurs outside the foundation of trust. In that case, it is potentially as destructive as we imagine.
Constructive conflict, though, is not an oxymoron. When trust exists, team members can have constructive, unfiltered, passionate debate about ideas, policies, procedures etc. Members discuss and debate, often with great energy, ways to best serve the business purposes of the entire team. Every team member has a stake in the welfare of the practice. It is to everyone’s benefit to engage in conflict that leads to the very best ideas and ways of doing things.
Other constructive conflicts involve how teammates interact with each other. These topics can be touchier. Groups must have ways of managing them because conflict over interaction issues can be more powerful in determining business outcomes than conflict over business issues.
Action Steps: To have constructive conflict on your team:
- Encourage the team to openly and passionately disagree with other’s ideas. Model this behavior yourself in a spirited yet respectful way. Your positive energy and enthusiasm are likely to be contagious.
- Be careful how you interpret behavior you don’t like, i.e., don’t castigate personality, call names (even in your own head), or assume bad motives. For example, if your receptionist does not fill a hole in your schedule, do not imply that she is lazy (or stupid). Instead, assume that she means well. Talk with her about the procedures you want her to follow for filling your schedule. Inquire about factors that may interfere with her compliance with your request.
- Avoid triangulated communication. This means that you don’t listen to Mary complain about Sue. Rather you insist that Mary talk directly to Sue about her concerns. (You may or may not choose to facilitate their discussion as long as you don’t get yourself trapped into taking sides.)
Commitment: Members of high performance teams are committed to a common purpose – such as a vision and mission, as well as agreed upon strategies and tactics to achieve them. You can tell if your team is having trouble with commitment if staff members agree to do things in a certain way during team meetings but don’t follow through.
An unkept agreement usually means that, during the decision-making/planning phase, teammates did not air their differences. There was insufficient constructive conflict.
Mature people don’t always need to get their way. They just need to be heard and respected. Once their ideas have been seriously considered, most folks are willing to go along with another decision if necessary.
Action Steps: What can you, as team leader, do to create commitment?
- First, people must know what they are committing to. Every team needs an identified mission, a vision of an exciting future, and how the team will move itself towards these goals. A key step is for you to discover and articulate the vision of your practice. Building this foundation will require a significant investment of time. That time will be saved many times over when your staff members work cooperatively and in alignment with the vision and each other. Procedures and other day to day decisions will flow from this foundation.
- Second, great dentists, who lead great teams, will find ways to involve team members in creating the vision within broad parameters set by the dentist. Team involvement leads to team ownership, which builds commitment.
- Third, Help each team member determine whether the vision is one they can embrace. If not, they must leave the team for their own sake as well as the team’s sake. This is not personal. Everyone has a right to their preferences.
Fourth, Work with remaining team members to determine the best strategies and tactics to achieve the vision.
Let’s stop here to give you a chance to experiment with these action steps. Again, we would be delighted to hear your comments and what happens when you try some of these things out. Next week, we will share the third and final installment in this series.