© Dmitrydesigner | Dreamstime.com

Now is the perfect time to assess your goals and team

April 22, 2020
As a former college rower, Natalie Kaweckyj asks: Are the people in your personal and professional life rowing, faking it, or drilling holes in the boat? It's time to find out who's doing what and take action.

We rely on others in so many ways at various times in our lives. Have you ever gotten the feeling that someone who says they’re on your team really isn’t? Not only is this frustrating and disappointing, but sometimes it can derail your goals and dreams. Does it sound like I’m speaking from experience? You bet I am. I’ve experienced this both personally and professionally often enough that it’s taught me several new skills and honed my leadership. I use rowing as an analogy because I’m familiar with it: I was a member of the University of Minnesota’s women’s crew team in the late ‘80s.

The past month during this pandemic has given many of us the luxury of time to regroup, reassess, and reflect. Some people have been more productive than others in their downtime, but I’m sure many have thought about their personal and professional goals and the uncertain future.

Being in public health, a core team of coworkers and I are on the front lines treating dental emergencies six days a week. Day in and day out, we work like a well-oiled machine, and we’re fortunate that we’re all rowing in the same direction . . . most of the time. But not everyone experiences this. Most of us had times when it felt like everyone was rowing in a different direction or at a different rate. Then there were the times where someone intentionally drilled a hole in the boat. Sound familiar?

Focus on your professional life

Each year, the Gallup Poll conducts a State of the American Workplace Survey. Year after year, the survey results are very similar to previous years. The poll defines the following categories of team members:

  • Engaged team members work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company or organization. They drive innovation, move the organization forward, and don’t sabotage progress. They often have creative solutions and ideas and are willing to share and ready to pitch in at getting things done.
  • Not engaged team members are basically checked out. They sleepwalk through their workday putting time, but not energy or passion, into their work. The result is not always satisfactory. In group settings, they may drift in and out of the conversation or continually play devil’s advocate rather than proactively work for the common goal.
  • Actively disengaged team members aren’t just unhappy at work; they’re busy acting out their unhappiness everywhere. Every day these team members undermine what their engaged team members accomplish. Unfortunately, disengaged employees outnumber engaged employees by more than two to one. To understand exactly how this can affect team dynamics, imagine you have 10 people rowing in a boat. Three team members row in the right direction and give it their all. Five team members look like they’re rowing, but their oars are not touching the water. The two team members in the back? They’re drilling holes in the boat!

There’s no need for modern culture to be so dysfunctional. What do you do? The following points can be used in any professional situation; the office, civic group, the PTA, the possibilities are limitless.

  • Have a crystal-clear picture of your goal or vision. If it isn’t clear to you, there’s no way anyone else will understand your goal or vision. Vagueness does not add to the project, it only causes mystery. This may involve a new office policy or protocol, production goals, or adapting to a new way of doing things.
  • Voice that vision or goal over and over again. People forget; life happens. Our minds are rarely focused 100%. Within 48 hours of a vision or goal being shared, virtually everyone forgets it. Repetition is key. Hearing something at least three times is vital for remembering. When team members focus just on their next activity, they unintentionally start heading in different directions. And 10 tasks down the list, they’re headed in completely different directions than they’re supposed to be. Repetition, repetition, repetition.
  • Create short, simple, easy metrics to keep everyone heading in the same direction. Fundamentally, if you can’t say right off the top of your head, “Our vision or goal for this year is . . . and the top three things we plan to accomplish are . . .” then there’s no way that all of your rowers will head in the correct direction. If you want to keep everyone rowing in the same direction, then keep everyone apprised of a small set of metrics, three to five tops. Once you get everyone focused on one issue, keep one metric in front of them for a period of time.
  • Implement the vision and hold individuals accountable. Too many people tolerate poor performance, disregard for direction, poor attitudes, or lack of follow through. They have created the monster in the room, the culture where it’s OK for their people to not be on board, disregard direction, or sabotage well-laid plans. Correcting this involves setting expectations and providing encouragement and opportunities to succeed. You have to make sure that everyone is rowing in the same direction. If they’re not, then you need to make sure you bring them back to focus on the goal or vision at hand.

Focus on your personal life

Many of us do not spend enough time on ourselves and it’s usually because we’re “too busy.” The three categories of engaged team members can also define those individuals in your personal life.

  • Those who are engaged support your personal goals, successes, failures, and achievements. They are there for you every step of the way.
  • Those not engaged are what I call fair weather friends. They’re only supportive when there’s something in it for them. I’m sure you can think of a few.
  • Those who are actively disengaged are the Debbie Downers. They’re busy complaining and can jeopardize your momentum.

People will drift in and out of your life due to circumstances of their own choosing. You may have to take the initiative to cut someone loose from your circle in order to maintain your sanity and achieve your goals. Use this time if you’re not working to reassess your relationships with your team members, friends, and family. Dentistry is changing every day and we will have a new normal in the future. Will you be ready for it, or will you be the one drilling the holes in the boat? The choice is yours so choose wisely!

Natalie Kaweckyj, BA, LDA, CDA, RF, CDPMA, COA, COMSA, CPFDA, CRFDA, MADAA, is a senior moderator of the Dental Peeps Network and a past president of the ADAA.