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Nancy Haller, Ph.D.
Leadership Coach
McKenzie Management
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Break Down Silo Behavior in Your Practice
By Nancy Haller, Ph.D.

I grew up in rural Connecticut where dairy farming was prevalent and barns were plentiful. The barns had silos - tall cylindrical structures used to store and protect corn and grain from the weather elements. As an organizational psychologist, I work with companies and different silos. Silos are teams of people who are split into divisions or departments, such as sales, technology, and finance. Companies within companies, so to speak. Subgroups of people within the organization that have their own specific function. Silos occur naturally because of the way organizations are structured. Each subgroup has responsibility for that part of the company. This structure is necessary to get the work done because it allows expertise in different areas. 

In the business world today, silo behavior refers to a host of dysfunctional behaviors. Subgroups see themselves isolated in their own function or specialty area. In turn they tend to support and promote their own silo’s goals, with just a nod to the larger organizational goals. Cooperation, communication, and collaboration are ineffective and insufficient. The silos battle with each other. They lose focus of the overall goal of the organization because allegiances are to the subgroup, not to the company. Although you may not lead a multi-national global corporation, silo’ed behavior is rampant in dentistry:

  • Front Office - Back Office
  • Clinical - Administrative
  • Full Time - Part Time

These are the traditional and common dental practice silos. In actuality, none of these three subgroups are truly independent. Each relies on others to perform its function, and the practice performs well only when each of these ‘parts’ or ‘units’ work closely together.

Dental silos are natural and this structure is not the problem. The problem comes from the behaviors that can occur as a result of the silo-structure. Conflict abounds.  Lost productivity. Stifled creativity. Employee dissatisfaction. Patient complaints. Turnover, to name just a few. People prefer to work - and patients to be treated - in an environment where there is a shared sense of purpose, where they are able to balance their personal needs with the needs of others. Here are some basics if you need to topple silo-ed behavior in your practice.

1. Establish clear roles and responsibilities. Nothing fuels turf wars more than an uncertain and disorderly workplace. Job descriptions and behavioral policies about respect are essential to create a healthy, unified environment.

2. Confidence is contagious, and people build on it when they see it and trust it. Project confidence. Be empathetic and genuine. If you become a strong leader, you will see others model your behavior.

3. Be appropriately vulnerable. Authenticity can feel risky in a work setting, but it does wonders to build trust. Take off the mask more. You’ll like the results.

4. Make room for individual and group success. It’s fine to focus on production numbers but remember that seemingly small contributions make up a compelling whole. Recognize people for their individual achievements. In turn they are more likely to work for the practice’s goals.

5. Find the humor in everyday events. Laughter is the quickest way to form connections with other people. When we laugh, we reveal an important part of our humanity, and we break down barriers. 

6. Conduct a staff workshop using a personality test that shows how each person is ‘wired’. This teaches employees how they can best work together based on personal preferences. A team retreat is a great way to accomplish this.  

Silos are natural in dental practices and they can be highly effective. It’s also perfectly fine to allow competition between subgroups…as long as it stays friendly. Let there be a spirit of play. But from a practice point of view, the silos absolutely need to work together. Everyone shares the same priorities and these are aligned with your practice mission and vision.

Dr. Haller provides training for leadership effectiveness, interpersonal communication, conflict management, and team building. If you would like to learn more contact her at coach@mckenziemgmt.com

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

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