Bringing synergy to the inner workings of your practice

June 20, 2011

By Dr. Tanya Brown and Richard Jeffries

In a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academies, Nathan Mlot, a mechanical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology, published an article about fire ants. While a single fire ant struggles when exposed to water, a group of fire ants working closely together can float effortlessly for days. The ants accomplish this by literally linking their bodies together. They actually create a waterproof raft, and as a whole the raft is significantly more buoyant than a single fire ant floating alone. This is much like the fact that a happy, productive dental team can outperform one unhappy dental team member any day of the week.

So how are fire ants similar to dental team members? It’s all about synergy. The more efficiently everyone works together, the more productive and profitable the practice will be. The result will be superior customer service and high quality patient care, compared to a disjointed group of people merely working in the same practice.

There are three keys to strengthen a team:
1) Positive attitude
2) Common goals
3) Personal growth/leadership

If an individual has a positive attitude, that person can easily be trained for skills. A group of people with positive attitudes is more likely to work well together, just like the fire ants. Patients especially appreciate friendliness and openness because it helps them connect on a deeper level with the team. After all, we are in the smile business. We must remember to smile on both the inside and outside at all times.

Unfortunately, dental team members today may not receive appropriate training for their positions, which creates a burden on the entire team. Training is critical because most teams are only as strong as their weakest link. Linda Miles has developed the concept of “hire, train, trust, and praise,” which describes an ideal dental practice management philosophy. A highly trained team of people with positive attitudes is more likely to accomplish common goals. In dentistry, common goals can include expanding services for patients, producing a certain amount per month, or earning a continuing education trip.

One way to promote teamwork and common goals is to create a practice bonus system based on net production and collections. This ensures that both the administrative and clinical team members must work together for the common benefit of the patients, the practice, and the team. Successful team oriented companies have “owner mentality” and not “unionized thinking.” The synergy and productivity is clearly evident when the entire team is happy and working together to accomplish common goals. It is a WIN-WIN!

Finally, the third key to strengthening a dental team is to encourage each team member to develop personally. When each team member develops personally and becomes a more effective leader, the entire practice grows and patient care improves. The best performing, least stressed dental teams are often those with leaders at all levels, which means that each person on the team takes ownership and responsibility for their area of the practice.

Each leader presents the results of their efforts at the team meetings. This may include the number of collection calls made by the financial coordinator, or the number of patients reactivated by the scheduling coordinator. The clinical team may report on their supply costs compared to the budget or numbers of a particular procedure completed for that month.

The point is that each person is accountable to the team. Another personal development idea that has proven successful is a book club, where the team selects a particular book on leadership or personal growth. At a team meeting, each person should report on one or two things that they learned from the book and can apply to improve patient care and the practice.

Dental practices that have strong team building processes have reaped the greatest personal and financial rewards. Remember the timeless adage of TEAM — Together Everyone Achieves More.

Dr. Tanya Brown, a leader in dentistry and dental management, founded and actively practices at The Center for Cosmetic & Restorative Dentistry. She is a member of the Speaking Consulting Network and is a senior consultant and speaker for Miles Global. Contact Tanya for a complimentary copy of her “Leadership at all Levels” tracking form or her book club suggestions. She can be reached at [email protected] or 757-285-2833.

Richard Jeffries, CEO of Absolute Business Consultants, uses his experience in the corporate business world to help clients start or grow their businesses. He works with business owners who want to improve their productivity and profitability. Contact Richard at [email protected] or 757-739-1988 to start decreasing your stress and improving your bottom line.