Perfecting Your Team – (Part 3) by Dana Ackley PhD

Build your relationships first….then your dentistry. ~ Bob Barkley

Perfecting Your Team – (Part 3) by Dana Ackley PhD

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Dana_ackley Welcome to the third and final installment of Perfecting Your Team. This series of articles provides you with a model of five behaviors that make the difference between a great team and one that, well, is not so great. We know that you know that you need a team. It is just not so easy to make it work. Hopefully, the model and action steps in this series will help you build the team that you need.

In the first installment, we dealt with the foundation for a good team, trust. [ Click for Part 1 ]  The second installment looked at constructive conflict and commitment. [ Click for Part 2 ] The final two vital behaviors are discussed below.

Accountability: On high performing teams, accountability works a little differently than you might guess. Team members are not accountable just to the leader. Rather, all team members become accountable to every other team member with regard to how well they work towards team goals.

To be clear, the doctor is still in charge. Nevertheless, in high performance teams, other team members are willing to speak up for commitments, goals and the mission all have agreed to. You will know that your team has achieved great accountability when you witness team members respectfully confronting other team members for behaviors that run counter to commitments and agreements.

For example, suppose that everyone on the team agrees to "advance health through promoting proper dentistry at every reasonable opportunity." The Administrative Leader notices that the Hygienist failed to mention the value of an occlusal equilibration to a patient (to whom the procedure had previously been recommended by the dentist). The Administrative Leader kindly reminds the Hygienist about the practice’s mission to promote proper dentistry, and points out that it appeared that an opportunity may have been lost with this particular patient.

The Hygienist (on a great team) does not interpret this information as a personal attack, and as a result does not resent the comment. Rather, she will say to herself "She has a point; I did get distracted and will need to make certain that I mention the equilibration next time. I will make a note to remind myself."

Action Steps: To build accountability in your practice:

  • Encourage team members to challenge behavior that runs counter to commitments. Comments are about the behavior, not the person.
    • Good: "It appeared that you forgot to remind Mrs. Jones about the value of an equilibration."
    • Bad: "You always forget to tell patients about important things! Don’t you care about what they really need?"
  • Encourage team members to accept that they are being confronted for appropriate reasons, not as a personal attack. Model such acceptance when someone challenges you as well. In fact, when your team members become willing to confront you, you will know that you have taken a giant step forward. (One dentist I know was challenged by his receptionist for not allowing her time in the daily schedule to make reactivation calls he had specifically requested. His response? He immediately saw the issue in a new light, and had her specifically block off uninterrupted time on a Friday so that she could succeed at this critical task).

Attention to Team Results: Members of high performance teams focus on team results more than on their personal outcomes. Personal results matter but they are always viewed in the context of team results.

    For example, you may choose to measure the number of new patients seen per month. Assume that you have identified the kinds of patients who best fit your practice model and want to use that profile to better manage your practice. Were your administrative assistant oriented toward achieving recognition only for herself, she might schedule as many patients as possible without regard to their fit. This would statistically make her look good but cause a large percentage of patients to "wash out" over time.

    On the other hand, an administrative assistant focused on optimal team results would help callers make good choices, particularly regarding whether or not the practice was right for them. Doing so would set the stage for the rest of the team to succeed over time, as they would primarily be working with patients who wanted to be there and who appreciated how the practice operates.

    Action Steps: To practice attention to results:

    • In concert with the team, identify team performance goals to help you measure progress towards the vision. Remember and use a saying known by every successful business: "What is valued gets measured. What gets measured gets done." Your vision, mission, and key strategies will tell you what you value and therefore, what should be measured. Examples might include:
      • Treatment plan case acceptance rate
      • Number of appropriate new patients per month entering the practice
      • Gross production
      • Overhead percentage
      • No shows / last minute cancellations
      • The health level of patients who have been a part of the practice for a significant period (are you succeeding at your mission?)
    • Have team members collect important practice "vital signs" and share them frequently.
    • Avoid the temptation to become judgmental about disappointing results. Leaders who make it unsafe for team members to provide bad news get lied to. Respond to disappointing news from an "assessment" perspective.
      • Judgmental: "Our number of no-shows is unacceptable. You are doing a terrible job!"
      • Assessment: "Our number of no-shows for this month was 130% of our goal. What ideas do you have regarding how we can lower this number in the future?"

    Each of the action steps in this series of articles can help you create the team you need. But, building a great team isn’t easy. To take the next steps in team development consider three resources. First, you may like to read the book that this model outlined is based on – The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni. It makes its points in story form and is an easy but informative read.

    Second, we have constructed a brief survey that you and your team can complete to give you an estimate of development on each of the five key behaviors. Such knowledge may be useful in taking steps to enhance your team’s functioning. Simply have everyone on your team, including yourself, complete the questionnaire. We will send you a brief report with a profile of the overall team’s responses.  [ Click for Team Survey ]

    Finally, it may be useful to hire a coach for yourself and the team. The coach can help you further assess the current functioning of your team and create action plans for overcoming barriers to building the kind of team of which you dream.

    Your coach also can act as a guide to the execution of your plan. Here’s why: The devil can be in the details. It is a little like restoring a tooth. Conceptually, it is simple: remove that which is failing and replace it with something that restores form, function, and appearance. Effective execution, however, requires training, skill, and professional judgment, which is what your coach can bring to team development.

    A great team is within your reach. It begins with hiring great people. But even great people have to be molded into a team. This five level pyramid model can serve as an excellent road map.

    Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D. is a psychologist who provides coaching and consultation to dentists and their teams. He is a guest lecturer at the Pankey Institute for Advanced Dental Education and writes frequently for Dentistry Today. He can be reached at or 540-774-1927 or 2840 Electric Road, Suite 208, Roanoke, Virginia 24018.

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