Question:My team is constantly snapping at one another. The division between the front office and the clinical staff makes it a trial to get through the day. How can I create harmony and a caring environment for my team and my patients?
Kathy Larson, Leadership Expert: Your ship has lost its captain! The hallmarks of leadership are inspiration and motivation, and you must act as a leader now before your practice “hits the rocks”! Division results from a loss of vision and purpose, and your team clearly does not understand either. Redefining your vision of a harmonious practice resulting from respect, collaboration, and creative problem-solving will reset your course. You must remind your team that they have forgotten the purpose of dentistry, which is to care for your patients.
As well, the purpose of your practice is to care for each other. Schedule a team meeting immediately. State your concerns. If you have a disgruntled or contrary employee, set aside a time to meet with her individually. Be compassionate but firm. Speak from your heart, explaining your needs, as well as the patients’ needs, and reestablish your code of acceptable behavior.
Understand there may be legitimate gripes causing conflict; however, responding with this behavior is not acceptable. Acknowledge that acting out is a cry for help, but these “mini-tantrums” do not yield positive results for two-year-olds - nor should they for your team members.
Valerie Williams, Clinical Expert: As a hygienist consulting in practices across the country, I look for inhibitors to productivity, such as animosity between team members and the hygienist. Regrettably, I see hygienists who are prima donnas developing resentment all around them. Often, the cause is the hygienist’s compensation structure and the team’s perception that she earns more and does less.
If you suspect that this is at the root of the problem, take time to observe your hygienist’s interactions with the rest of the team. Does your hygienist ...
• Participate in morning meetings - or - show up late and disinterested?
• Assist with instrument sterilization and tray setup when she is free - or - drink coffee and make personal calls?
• Confirm patients and assist in calling overdue patients when available - or - leave early if there is a no-show?
• Check to see if anything needs completing before leaving for the day - or - believe it is beneath her to assist with any assistant/administrative team duties?
Observing the daily practices of your team members helps you to identify the reason for your team division, allowing you to begin creating your stress-free day.
Linda O’Grady, Front-Office Expert: Patients can sense the tension and lack of harmony in your practice, not to mention the personal stress and tension you are suffering. You will be able to strategize toward a solution once you figure out if one of two things is happening in your practice.
The first possibility is that you have an instigator stirring the proverbial pot. I consulted with an office that had a team member who spent her evenings on the telephone, calling other team members as a “friend.” Nightly, her discussions entailed how unfair she thought a comment made that day was or various other infractions made by her co-workers. In most cases, no one had given these minor incidents a second thought until she brought them to the surface in her phone calls. Once this team member was gone, the problem was gone.
It is also possible that there is little respect or appreciation for individual responsibilities and contributions. I worked with a team once whose scheduling coordinator scheduled according to daylight on the schedule, never within a block of time designated for particular procedures. Obviously, the clinical team was very frustrated with the chaotic schedule. By determining the source of the frustration, they were able to have an effective, nonconfrontational discourse. The last part of the solution was that we trained the entire team in effective scheduling and communication.
Mary O’Neill, Relationship Expert: When team members are “snapping” at one another, it is a sure sign that conflict has gone underground. Judging from your statement, I’d guess it has been that way for some time. What is really happening here is that the original problem has compounded and communicating about anything sometimes challenges the team. There is a breakdown in trust that causes additional tension for everyone.
The first step toward eliminating this problem is to let your team know you are aware of it and that you intend to deal with it. I work with many dentists who have successfully implemented a simple problem-solving model for resolving conflict. Then, when an inevitable conflict arises, everyone is in prior agreement about how to handle it. With the psychological stake in a quality of life within the practice, each team member is more willing to work to maintain harmony. Best of all, when teams accept ownership for resolving their conflicts, this takes the pressure off you!
Resolving conflict is a choice; anyone can choose to do it. Sometimes, though, even the most sophisticated team members can feel ill-equipped to address conflict that has reached this deep and destructive level. Nevertheless, with patience, practice, perseverance - and, sometimes, team-building assistance from an outside professional - it can be done.
Meet our guest, Tamara S. Berg, DDS:Dr. Berg is a 1995 graduate of the University of Oklahoma College of Dentistry. She is currently chairman of the Oklahoma Dental Association Membership Committee and a board member of the Oklahoma Association of Women Dentists. The immediate past-president of the Oklahoma County Dental Society, she is on the Smiles for Success board of directors and chairman of the Oklahoma chapter of Smiles for Success. Dr. Berg is in private practice in Yukon, Okla.
Dr. Berg: Life is too short to be walking around on eggshells all day. We chose this profession because we enjoy helping others. Addressing the problem now prevents your team from taking this away. Continual conflict indicates a need for change. One of the best books for dealing with change is “Who Moved My Cheese?” by Spencer Johnson, MD. It discusses how different personalities perceive change and helps you understand - and survive - conflict.
I know from personal experience that not being happy at work with your employees comes home with you and can make you an unhappy person. Patients also notice the bickering and conflict, and it drives them away.
It is time to sit down with the parties involved and give an ultimatum. As a female dentist with female employees, sometimes this is the hardest problem you will deal with. You must take off your “friend hat” and put on your “managerial hat.” Find the underlying cause of the issue. In my case, personnel changes were a blessing! It took a giant step to create happiness in my office, but it was well worth it. Losing this stress changed my practice and my home life. Be brave!