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12.30.05 Issue #199  
The TEAM Troubled or Terrific?

Sally McKenzie, CEO
The McKenzie Company

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Think about yours. Are you shaking your head in despair or nodding in affirmation? They’re good. They’re bad. They’re so-so.

We spend a lot of time talking about dental teams - their effectiveness, their cohesiveness, their efficiency, their productivity, etc. Google the word “teamwork” and you’ll get 21 million hits. Search for books on teamwork on and you’ll find some 877 to choose from. For all of our interest in teams – dynamics, operations, successes, structures, advantages, challenges, the team is largely in the Neanderthal stage in it’s evolution, still lumbering along. As Ken Lencioni, leadership guru and author of the best-selling book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, describes it, “Teamwork remains the one sustainable competitive advantage that has been largely untapped.” 

What’s more “teams” are frequently comprised of individuals whose skills are vastly under-utilized. According to J. Richard Hackman, author of Leading Teams: Setting the Stage for Great Performances, most teams generally leave unused enormous pools of member talent.

Many dental teams struggle to truly maximize their effectiveness. They face daily challenges of merely getting everyone on the same page let alone heading in the same direction. Often they simply avoid taking action necessary to create high performance teams. Dentists become frustrated with team members because they don’t like the way employees handle certain procedures, tasks, or patient interactions, yet they routinely make excuses for those individuals rather than constructively directing them. “Patty is new, so there’s a learning curve we have to consider.” “Ellen is great at what she does, but she has difficulty dealing with some people.” “Joe is a really nice guy, but he’s afraid to mention a problem until we have a crisis.”

Conversely, team members complain that dentists don’t give enough direction, feedback, or refuse to hold others accountable. They’ll assert that certain team members get preferential treatment or that the office politics interfere with any real effort to change or improve systems. Some team members will become immensely frustrated with their inability to fix what they see as a problem or inefficiency because the practice has “always done it this way.” Others shun discussion of those issues that make fellow team members or the doctor uncomfortable for fear of making waves.

In reality, oftentimes that group of people you casually refer to as “the team” is actually several individuals doing their best to tolerate each other for 8-10 hours a day. But how do you build the team that not only works together but truly excels together? It starts with a clear vision and a solid plan to implement the vision. The team has to know where they’re going before they can be expected to actually travel in the same direction.

Take a look at your practice environment. Does your office foster a culture of teamwork that is built on trust and respect or does it operate more like a workgroup? Many dental “teams” function more like workgroups. In workgroups, people are primarily concerned with their own job and output. There is little or no interest in what their coworkers are doing. In fact, they see their coworkers as their competition, and they’ll do little to support the competition. This ineffective attitude leads to a loss of efficiency and production. The office often feels disorganized, there is a general acceptance of poor or mediocre performance fueling a –“that’s just the way things operate here,” attitude, and high turnover is common.

Effective teams work toward a common purpose and hold themselves and each other accountable for the team’s effectiveness and efficiency.

Next week, how to make 2006 the year of your high performance team.

Interested in having Sally speak to your dental society or study club? Click Here.

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McKenzie Management's Seminar Schedule
2006 Location Sponsor Information Topic Speaker
Jan. 26-28 Dallas, TX Dallas County Dental Society* 877-777-6151 Top Issues Sally McKenzie
Feb. 9-10 Santa Barbara, CA The Art of Endodontics 800-528-1590 Max. Prod. Sally McKenzie
Mar. 9 Vancouver, BC Pacific Dental Conference 604-736-3781 Overhead Sally McKenzie
Mar. 24 West Branch, MI Northland Dental Study Club 989-345-7750 Breakdown Sally McKenzie
Mar. 29 Long Island, NY Suffolk County Dental Society 312-440-2908 Breakdown Sally McKenzie
Mar. 31 Las Vegas, NV Dental Town Meeting 877-777-6151 TBA Sally McKenzie
* The McKenzie Company will be exhibiting at this location

McKenzie Management
A Division of The McKenzie Company, Inc.

3252 Holiday Court, Suite 110

La Jolla, CA 92037

For more information, email
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