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2.06.09 Issue #361 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Is The ‘Silo Effect” Putting You And Your Practice Out To Pasture
by Sally McKenzie CEO
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Ann does her job, Caroline does hers, Danita seems to always be busy doing hers. Everyone is working independently. So what’s the problem? It’s known as the “silo effect,” and it occurs in the workplace when individuals are focused almost exclusively on their own areas. Think of farm silos: They stand next to each other, each performing its individual function, but there is no link between them. That’s not a problem out on the farm; in the workplace, however, it’s a different story.

This silo effect can occur in the dental practice when there is a lack of communication and common goals among the different areas—the clinical staff and the business staff, the doctor and the hygienists, etc. It is, perhaps, a new twist on the old workplace problem of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Each person is performing his or her job with little attention paid to the big picture or to how each system is intertwined with the others. Individuals are given tasks to achieve but there’s minimal focus on overall goals or teamwork.

The business employee unknowingly schedules the emergency patient at a time that puts significant strain on the doctor and the assistant. The doctor recommends that a patient pursue an extensive treatment plan without realizing that the patient already carries a significant balance on the account. The Collections Coordinator tries to increase collections, but is frustrated by the doctor’s actions; she can’t control accounts receivables when the doctor is recommending costly treatment to patients with outstanding balances! The doctor, meanwhile, wants to increase treatment acceptance and is now offering more elective procedures. The Hygienist provides care to the patients who show up, but her production continues to fall short because of cancellations and no-shows. She has been told that she needs to see more patients and if she does she will get a bonus, but she can’t achieve that without the help of the others. “No one is willing to help confirm appointments—not their job, they say—so I can’t increase my production.”

There’s no effective communication between the silos.

Resentment builds on all fronts, including within the business staff. “I have enough to do with my own job. I can’t be sitting on the phone all day—let her make those calls.” Each person is so focused on her/his individual duties that it seems no one has any concept of the bigger picture. That’s because, in this office, the bigger picture has never been painted.

Clearly, the collective interests of the practice as a whole are suffering. If there is a common goal or a common purpose, it doesn’t have a chance in this environment until the silos are torn down and individuals focus on how they fit into the shared success of the entire office.

That begins with the doctor creating and communicating his/her vision and goals for the practice. For some, this is a significant hurdle to overcome. After all, dentists are not trained to create visions or develop goals for systems they scarcely understand themselves, let alone lead teams. Dentists are trained to treat patients. It’s certainly no wonder that for many doctors the sentiment is, “If I’m doing my job and the rest of the staff are doing theirs, what else do you need to do to be a “team”?

Teams are driven by a common purpose, and common goals and objectives, and are fueled by mutual respect and trust. They also must be nurtured over time and they must be rewarded for a job well done and redirected when they veer off course. How do you get there? As they say, every journey begins with the first step. Team development occurs when a team pauses to examine itself, identifies opportunities for improvement and commits to action. Over time, the members of the team work through various aspects, including:

  • improving communication skills and establishing dialogue
  • providing a non-threatening forum for the team to evaluate strengths and weaknesses
  • clearly defining roles and responsibilities of the members
  • assessing individual roles in the group and understanding how each contributes to the overall practice objectives
  • developing specific team processes, such as decision-making and conflict management.
  • improving problem-solving strategies

Becoming a highly functioning team takes time and, above all, commitment from everyone.

Next week, Team Building the McKenzie Management way.

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