Are You Running with the ‘In’ Crowd?
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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As the saying goes, birds of a feather flock together. Understandably, it’s common for those with like interests, backgrounds, and experiences to form friendships and alliances. But what may seem like staff camaraderie on the surface can be the root of practice factions, otherwise known as cliques.
It’s not uncommon to see divisions between clinical and business staff, between a group of the “favored” employees and the rest of the workers, or between the longtime personnel and the new recruits. Regardless of the makeup, staff cliques can be a powerful undertow in your practice manifesting in poor morale, ongoing conflict, and increased staff turnover all of which compromise practice productivity and profitability.
Take the case of Liz, Ellen, and Tom. They’ve been with the doctor since day one. They feel that because of their seniority in the practice they run the show, and that would be how the rest of the team sees it as well. The doctor doesn’t make a change unless those three are on board.
Liz, Ellen, and Tom lunch together, have coffee together, socialize together, and think nothing of the message of exclusion they send to the other employees who, by the way, turn over pretty regularly. They justify their failure to include new employees because the chances that the latest recruit will stick around for more than a year are slim to none. Gee, I wonder why.
In staff meetings, which are few because Liz, Ellen, and Tom pull the doctor aside whenever they feel something needs to be addressed, new employees are seldom asked for input. They tend to fall into the role of spectator merely watching the doctor and the trio banter the issues about. If they do speak up, their ideas are greeted coolly. Unless the threesome comes up with the concept, it’s likely someone else’s slightly different approach will interfere with the way they like to do things, which, they argue, seems to be working just fine. And it is, at least for the three of them.
The doctor…she’s a really nice person and although she acknowledges that Liz, Ellen, and Tom “aren’t perfect” she doesn’t want to confront the issue. She prefers to just look the other way, telling herself there is really nothing she can do about it anyway.
Certainly, strong relationships among longtime employees can be tremendously beneficial for practices that rely on small cohesive teams; however, if new employees feel unwelcome or excluded it’s likely these “loyal” workers are actually generating far more traffic than you want through that revolving door.
Cliques can be extremely counterproductive and, consequently, expensive. These non-productive units of exclusion reject key players, making it impossible to establish a true team that works effectively together. The problem becomes particularly serious if critical practice decisions are being made without input from those who are not part of the clique, or if essential information is not shared with those who need that information to effectively carry out their job responsibilities and duties, or if the treatment of some staff is noticeably different than the treatment of other staff.
Teams, not cliques, make the dental practice successful. While personalities, work styles, and interests may differ, each member of the staff needs to be given the opportunity to contribute fully.
Dentists, as leaders, set the example for the team and can unwittingly strengthen cliques. For example, allowing a few to monopolize the conversation in staff meetings rather than insisting on input from across the team can send the message to the others that their input either isn’t welcome or has a lower value than the “chosen” participants. Sharing personal information with a select few members of the team conveys to the rest that only the favored few have the ear of the doctor. Socializing with certain members of the staff outside of work also conveys the message of favoritism and encourages a sense of exclusivity among those who see themselves as part of the doctor’s social circle.
Pay attention to the lines of demarcation that may be drawn in your office and take steps to erase them promptly. Those quietly warring factions are chiseling away at your practice infrastructure and subtly undermining your every effort to establish a practice that is built on excellence.
Next week, “outing” the “in” crowd..
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