Th 154569

Diverse yet One

July 1, 2004
Moving From Individuals to a Complete Treatment Team

Moving From Individuals to a Complete Treatment Team

"If we were all determined to play the first violin we should never have an ensemble. Therefore, respect every musician in his proper place." — Robert Schumann

Author Jim Belasco tells about famous neurosurgeon Dr. Cooley. Belasco followed Dr. Cooley on his rounds one day and, en route to the operating room, saw the surgeon stop and talk to a man mopping the hallway. They conversed for nearly 10 minutes before Cooley dashed into the operating room.

Curious, Belasco walked over to the man with the mop and commented, "That was a long conversation."

"Dr. Cooley talks to me quite often."

The author asked, "What do you do at the hospital?"

The man paused ... then replied, "We save lives."

This story illustrates exactly how a healthy team functions. The man with the mop, probably the custodian at the hospital, viewed his role as more than just one who cleans the floors. He was part of a greater vision — he saved lives.

What is it like at your office? Do the dentists and the staff function as a cohesive team? Is the work climate warm and inviting? Is the care of the patient the first priority? Is the atmosphere one where mutual respect is given to all, workers' efforts are affirmed, and where everyone honestly enjoys his work as he strives to do what's best for the practice?

This type of environment does not just happen, and it isn't always easy to cultivate, much less maintain. While many dentists and staff often desire to work as a team, they may lack direction on how to put this process in motion.

In my experience working with a variety of organizations, I have found that the people and circumstances may differ but the problems and challenges they face are very similar. Do you face any of these particular challenges in your workplace?

  • Employees lack respect for management.
  • Management does not provide clear direction.
  • Management does not enforce policies consistently among all staff members.
  • Co-workers are more like adversaries than teammates.
  • Diversity among the group results in division.
  • Hidden agendas are present.
  • Negative attitudes prevail.
  • Gossiping is the most favored form of communication.

Three key components of a healthy team

1)Strong leadership — The person at the top is ultimately accountable for the overall climate of the workplace. To create a healthy team, the doctor must provide an environment of inclusion where communication and trust are present and where a spirit of collaboration is fostered over competition. Often, there are people in management who believe that competition among staff is healthy. Some go as far as to pit people against each other. This inevitably threatens team unity. Every employee must feel valuable to the practice. This can be accomplished in several ways:

  • Communicate clearly and specifically when relaying your practice vision.
  • Allow your team to provide input when setting goals. Give them a sense of ownership in the process. This will require you, as the doctor, to actively listen to the ideas of others. It will also require you to acknowledge and praise the abilities of the others in front of the team. The contributions and talents of others never threaten an effective leader.
  • Provide your team with freedom and autonomy to use their abilities.
  • Take time to really get to know your team. Understand that a team is made up of diverse people who respond to different types of motivation.

2)Mutual respect for others and their unique role in the team — This is the cornerstone of team effectiveness. An atmosphere of respect should flow from the top down and from the bottom up. While an atmosphere of inclusion and collaboration is essential to a healthy team and practice, every organization, business, and dental practice must have one person who is in control and who ultimately makes the final decision. Respect and support for the doctor are essential.

Often divisions will occur within an office among team members. These divisional lines can be drawn on many levels — status, educational background, gender, and race. I recently consulted with a children's organization that housed and counseled troubled youth. The counselors who had a higher education did not feel the need to listen or consult with the direct-care workers about the best way to handle these youth. While the counselors met with the youth for only an hour once a week, the direct-care workers cared for these children 24 hours a day. The counselors failed to see the wealth of experience and critical information that these workers possessed. Both groups are vital to the success not only of the team but of the lives of the children. A direct result of these divisions was negative attitudes creeping into the workplace.

In short, mutual respect for others and what they contribute to the success of the team is vital for a healthy team and a successful work environment. Diversity of style and expertise make teams stronger.

3)Clear and effective communication — The final component to a healthy team is effective communication. The typical worker spends more than 75 percent of her time in interpersonal situations. The root of a large number of organizational problems is poor communication. Communication is more than just the ability to speak. It involves how well we listen to others and how we respond to what others say. Here are some guiding principles to exceptional communication:

  • Actively listen to one another.
  • Listen to others completely before interjecting your opinion.
  • Choose your words carefully. Strive to encourage and not be judgmental.
  • Recognize that it is OK to disagree.
  • Be open and honest about how you feel. Hidden agendas can destroy a team.
  • Create an atmosphere of inclusion.
  • Make eye contact with others. It sends a powerful message that they are important.

Strong leadership, mutual respect for others, and effective communication are three key components to creating a complete dental treatment team. By focusing on these three components, perhaps your practice will be filled with people like the custodian who worked with Dr. Cooley ... people who view their role as a part of the greater vision of a dental practice — not just a job.

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Deidre Lhamon, MS
Ms. Lhamon is a communications consultant who helps businesses and organizations develop stronger corporate communications between employees and managers. She trains individuals in the area of presentational development and conducts focus group research. Contact Ms. Lhamon at (618) 939-1776 or deidre@