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For your dental practice to be profitable and sustainable, you need returning patients. But patients can be amazingly fickle, and their loyalty easily swayed. That’s why it’s so important for practices of all sizes to function as a team with the patient’s best interests at heart.

One bad apple may not spoil the whole barrel, but it might make you leery of sampling a second one from the same batch. By the same token, the actions of one individual might not reflect your core philosophies, but it could mean the difference between success and failure for your practice.

Think about it: have you ever decided not to return to a business because you received terrible service from an employee? The stakes are even hiring when you’re talking about something as personal as dental care. Like it or not, any employee who has contact with patients represents your practice as a whole, as far as outsiders are concerned.

Teamwork—or lack of it—also affects your internal productivity. Negativity spreads quickly. In a tight, efficient practice, you must be able to rely on each person doing the tasks assigned to him or her. When one individual is taking twice as long to complete work, only putting in half the effort, or constantly complaining about the workload, it affects the entire office. Quality and efficiency take a major hit and other team members become unnecessary stressed.

Why Teamwork Matters

While running a large practice can be stressful, operating a smaller office presents its own set of challenges. Obviously, all your employees are aware of each other. On the other hand, the smaller your operation is, the more likely your staff will be isolated within the office: in other words, yes, they know their co-workers, but co-workers are the ONLY peers they ever deal with.

Again, a positive atmosphere is key and teamwork is essential. The smaller the group, the more you feel the effects of one person who isn’t pulling his or her weight. There is much truth in the old adage that we’re only as strong as our weakest link: as the highest authority in your practice, it’s your responsibility to create a team dynamic where everyone contributes, and everyone understands their contribution.

Building a Tighter Team

So what can you do to help turn your practice into a smooth-running machine? The most important factors in building teamwork often happen behind the scenes. Forget clichéd games and so-called team outings: research has shown these seldom work. True teamwork is based on shared accomplishments, not forced participation in events that often lead people to feel even more isolated

Here are some real ways YOU, as a leader, can create a stronger team:

  • Due diligence in hiring – Avoid making bad hires from the start: A simple background check can quickly uncover things like a falsified resume or a negative employment history.
  • Delegate – It’s important that employees are very clear on their job responsibilities, any measurable metrics, and exactly what is expected of them.
  • Share the load – To ensure your business runs smoothly even with an absence, train all employees on the responsibilities of their fellow team members.
  • Conduct 360 reviews – Employee reviews aren’t just for giving feedback: they’re also an excellent time to identify weak spots ranging from employee behavior to process inefficiencies.
  • Be inclusive – This is more than an open-door policy; give your team a stake in the company’s future. Consult them on strategies and plans…you might be surprised how much they know.

One other factor to consider is how to KEEP a good team once you have it established. Today’s workforce today is extremely dynamic. On the one hand this means employees expect more options; on the other hand, it also means they’re more comfortable than previous generations in leaving jobs that don’t mesh with their lifestyles.

Part-time? Full-time? Regular business hours? More and more, these terms are losing relevance in a world of flexible schedules, time sharing, remote work, and the like. Of course, in a dental practice, many of these things are not an option, due to the nature of the work. This makes strategic workforce planning all the more important as a way of keeping your staff happy in their positions. Even in a small practice, some of these various styles of work can…but it may require you to rethink traditional policies.

The bottom line is, teamwork isn’t just people working in the same place. It’s people working together for the same goal, where the total is greater than the sum of the parts. For that, all you really need are people who are willing to learn.