06.19.09 Issue #380 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Dr. Nancy Haller
Dentist Coach
McKenzie Management
coach@ mckenziemgmt.com
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Reward or Retreat? What Does Your Team Need?

Many dentists take their employees on retreats as a way of raising the happiness level in the practice. After all, research shows that happy employees are far more productive, get better results, and are more loyal to their organizations than their unhappy counterparts. I’ve heard about some impressive retreats – all expense paid trips to vacation destinations, limousine transportation to 5-star dining establishments, spa treatments, and large bonus checks just to name a few.

While these activities will put smiles on nearly anyone’s face, the larger question is….does your team need a reward or a retreat?

A reward is a way to show your employees that you appreciate their dedication to your patients and your practice success. Rewards are good if you can afford them and – more importantly – if your team deserves them. The trouble is, while tangible recognition is a great way to reward high performance, it does not help troubled teams. And if your employees are not all high performers, those who are stars will resent sharing rewards with less productive team members.

Repeatedly I hear complaints from dentists about how much money they spent to “motivate” their team only to have continuing gossip and a lack of initiative in the office. In an interesting book, Punished by Rewards, Alfie Kohn discusses why rewards fail to promote lasting behavior change or enhance performance. I agree with his premise that rewards are based on behavioral theories. Like Pavlov’s dogs, human nature is to “do more of the same” when given a “bone.” So unknowingly – and paradoxically – many dentists are actually rewarding the very behavior they hope to stop!

Unless you have a high functioning team in which everyone is working together at the same level of peak performance, think twice about giving rewards. You can call spa treatments a “retreat” but facials and massages have nothing to do with improving collaboration among employees. If you really want to increase initiation, enthusiasm and productivity, your financial investment may yield better returns through a facilitated retreat.

Although team retreats offer both fun and education to employees, effective team retreats go beyond simple recreational bonding activities. During a team retreat, employees build bridges for results (what do each of us need to do to help the team); processes (how do we communicate, make decisions, and solve problems in the office), and behaviors (learn to give constructive feedback). Team chemistry also comes from intense training and time together.

If you are considering a team reward (even if you are calling it a retreat) ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
  • Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
  • Is conflict resolved constructively?
  • Are team meetings compelling and productive?
  • Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus?
  • Do team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team?
  • Do the front and back office work well together and help each other?

Although no team is perfect and even the best teams sometimes struggle with one or more of these issues, the best dental practices constantly work to ensure that their answers are "yes." If you answered "no" to any of these questions, your team may need some work. And by all means be very careful about rewarding undesirable team behavior.

It’s easy to lavish employees with gifts and incentives, but real leadership courage means acknowledging those things within your reach that you can change to make your practice function better. You may believe that your employees are a team, but perhaps they are just a workgroup. To find out, conduct a simple survey. Individually ask each employee to tell you: 1) the practice’s mission, 2) what they are trying to accomplish, 3) the priority of their specific tasks, and 4) the degree of collaboration between staff members. You may be surprised how differently they interpret the team’s goals, and how much they are functioning as individuals rather than a unified team. Team synergy occurs when a group achieves greater results together than they could accomplish individually. And it’s in your power to create that!

Send your questions to Dr. Haller at coach@mckenziemgmt.com. You’ll receive a complimentary executive summary of Maintaining Team Performance.

Interested in having Dr. Haller speak to your dental society or study club? Click here.

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