Don't muddle through the huddle

The culture of any team is dynamic. Year after year, it changes with personnel, maturity, and experience working together (among many other factors) – even if your employee turnover rate is nonexistent. Therefore, what works for one doctor’s team won’t necessarily work for another’s, says author Richard Train.

Feb 9th, 2012
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By Richard Train

Not so many years ago, we used to preach that the morning huddle was essential to ensuring all team members were able to start their day on the same page. We used to say that a solid, consistent, daily plan, effectively communicated to the team, would energize them and ensure a high potential for success – that day. We still believe that is possible, but not absolutely essential for a team’s success. Now when we talk about whether an office should have a daily meeting, I use my two favorite words: “It depends.”

The culture of any team is dynamic. Year after year, it changes with personnel, maturity, and experience working together (among many other factors) – even if your employee turnover rate is nonexistent. Therefore, what works for one doctor’s team won’t necessarily work for another’s. If you get the right people who seem to effortlessly anticipate one another’s actions, while also understanding the business you are in, the results can be remarkable.

That said, these highly cohesive teams are extremely rare. Maybe 5% of all practices will have that kind of total synergy, and fewer still will have it for a long time. By the way, that is a fairly generous ballpark guess based on our anecdotal interactions with many clients and doctors around the country. In reality, the percentage is probably lower, but for the sake of this article, it’s a nice round number and a good educated guess.

I also need to point out that I am not referring to team members that “get along” with one another. Simply liking one another is not the same as working well to produce excellent, profitable dentistry, while also gaining the enthusiastic repeat support of your patients. Longevity in the profession is also not an indicator of highly effective team members. We all know people who have been around dentistry for a long time, decades even, whom we wouldn’t hire to sterilize our mirrors.

So how does a doctor motivate a team to take interest in the true essentials of what makes the practice run, and the goals they need to meet? It is an accepted fact that to help a practice truly function for the greater good, many need to have a “big picture infusion” on a regular basis to help them get on board with the team’s daily, weekly, or monthly goals. It really makes sense, but painting all offices with the same broad brushstroke is a mistake, and it ultimately comes down to truly knowing what motivates and energizes each team member individually. If you don’t know and are not currently having regular meetings, try it and see what happens.

I have seen regular meetings turn into dull repetition where the only benefit is the food that is sometimes brought in to “pacify the troops.” People sit, eat, look as interested as possible, and then go right back to doing things as they always have. They often think the meeting is something that must be endured as a whim of the doctor/owner. They are smart enough to respond with what is expected of them, and the leader might think she/he is getting through to them, but the numbers don’t lie and they also don’t change. If there is not a significant jump in numbers and/or behavior after these meetings, then chances are good that your team isn’t buying in to your goals. That’s right; I said your goals because the team members view them as such and have taken no ownership of them.

In general, I am a “glass half full” kind of trainer, and believe that most people are intelligent enough to make their own decisions without being coerced or “sold.” That’s why it is imperative that the doctor/practice owner find the things that help his/her team members internally motivate themselves to buy in to the goals and vision of the practice. Giving them the information that they want and need is a good way to find out if they will invest themselves in your practice. However, being as succinct as possible also maximizes their time and effectiveness during their day with you.

Most dental teams seem to have a pretty good handle on why they are there, but the how – the organizational and functional business systems of their work – is usually the main problem that most encounter. Most of these problems are based in a lack of effective communication, which leads to more strife and issues within the team. How that affects a simple morning meeting completely depends on how deep these issues run within the team. When a practice has individuals who simply do not work well together, running a meeting becomes an exercise in futility because there are so many other issues running through the minds of these folks.

Leadership is always a crucial part in this. The one thing a true leader should remember is that the message has to be something important to all in the meeting, not just the leader. Saying what is critical to you is ineffective if it is not also critical to them. In most cases, you should either find the right ways to motivate them to adopt your vision, or find the right people who are ready to accept it from the beginning of their employment with you.

To answer the question of whether or not to continue to meet, ask yourself this question: “Will our time be put to good use because we met?” Remember the old accountant view of activity costs, which states that when anyone in the practice is at work (including the doctor), every single activity incurs a cost in resources: time, money, knowledge, effort, supplies, etc. Therefore, every single activity in a successful practice should also result in generating one of two things:

1. Cost savings
2. Income/production

If you cannot definitively answer yes to the question above, then regular meetings are probably not for your team. You either are too cohesive and efficient without them, or you are somewhat dysfunctional and need to rebuild your team’s foundational interactions.

Okay, I realize that’s a pretty extreme all-or-nothing view, so what about the majority of offices that are somewhere in the middle? Fair enough. Just set some simple rules for meetings that all will follow, and be consistent. Here are some suggestions:

1. Time – Don’t take much. If you have to take more than 10-15 minutes in a morning huddle, then you might have deeper issues to handle outside the meeting.
2. Agenda – Make sure you set a clear agenda and stick to it! You might also let your team members give suggestions for upcoming agenda items.
3. Content – Practice metrics are always good to discuss, and make them about areas your team actually cares to improve. If you want to add metrics you know they are not interested in, then turn it into a game or a competition. Be creative and they will start to buy in. If you are not giving kudos to them, just try to make your content SMART (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Relevant, and Time Sensitive).
4. Feedback – Encourage your team to offer their constructive ideas and thoughts in this forum, but make sure any long or deeper issues get pushed to a more appropriate time/place.
5. Responsibility – Practice one of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s “Laws of Human Influence” known as The Law of Investment. This means that when your team feels invested in the process of the meeting, they will take more ownership in its success and, by extension, your practice’s. Give key members the responsibility to measure and report, and they may even take turns providing certain information or leading projects. Then you can really watch them grow their leadership skills for everyone’s benefit!

The first complaint we often hear is that many offices lack (but can quickly redevelop) a sense of consistent adherence to a system of organization. Remember that the morning huddle is a microcosm of all the relationships and levels of communication that exist in your office. You probably spend as much time with your team as you do with your own family, and just like any relationship, it changes over time and with experiences.

By practicing these simple meeting steps and being consistent in them, it is certainly possible to move your office closer to being one of those top performing ones mentioned above. If having a regular meeting is for you, set your meeting rules and responsibilities; then meet only if you absolutely need to do so. Just remember to have the coffee ready.

Richard Train is a graduate of the California State University at Northridge, but his “real” education started from his family’s multigenerational, midsized business, and carried him into senior management positions in other companies. Richard spent decades learning successful business skills from some of the best, and teaching hundreds in several industries.

Richard and his business partner, Hogan Allen, have been working in dentistry for several years and began
Get Results Marketing and Business Coaching to share their knowledge. Their goals have always been to help dentists and dental teams learn and grow in any economy, and their weekly free webcast show, “The Whole Tooth,” on was created for that very purpose. They can be reached via their website at, or by phone at (800) 275-2350.

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