Team Dynamics: Are They With You or Against You?
It’s likely you’ve heard or quite possibly stated yourself - and with great conviction - “There’s no ‘I’ in Team.” Sure, you are correct that there’s no letter “i” in the word, but there are most certainly individuals on your team and the effectiveness of each most assuredly directly affects the success of the group. Indeed, I do affect the success of my team, as do you affect the success of yours.
But first, what exactly makes a “team”? The word itself originally referred to a group of draft animals hitched together, such as oxen or horses or a team of dogs all pulling in the same direction. Clearly, if one wandered off course, it would affect the entire group. All of the others would have to work that much harder to stay on course and bring the wanderer back into the fold. The same holds true for groups of people.
We spend a lot of time talking about dental teams: their effectiveness, their cohesiveness, their efficiency, their productivity, etc. For all of our interest in teams - dynamics, operations, successes, structures, advantages, challenges - the team is largely in the Neanderthal stage in its evolution, still lumbering along. As Patrick 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.”
But just exactly how do you tap that competitive advantage? Coaching great Vince Lombardi noted, “Individual commitment to a group effort…that is what makes a team work…” Individual commitment. Like the team of draft horses, if one strays all the others must work that much harder to stay on course.
Think about your team. Are you all headed in the same direction? As the team leader, what are you doing to move each individual forward so that the group as a whole is moving toward common goals? There’s no question that many dental teams struggle to truly maximize their effectiveness. In fact, many are simply groups of individuals that come together and work under the same roof. Referring to them as a “team” is a stretch. They face daily challenges of merely getting everyone on the same page, let alone heading in the same direction. Often they simply avoid taking the necessary action to create high performance teams, preferring instead to muddle through and merely maintain the status quo.
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 leading or engaging them. “Julie is new, so there’s a learning curve we have to consider.” “Rita is great at what she does, but she has difficulty dealing with some people.” “Jon 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, don’t provide enough training, or don’t hold others accountable. They’ll assert that certain staff get preferential treatment or that the office politics interfere with any real effort to change or improve systems. Some 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.
Take a look at your practice environment. Does your office foster a culture of shared commitment that is built on communication, trust, and mutual respect, where everyone is engaged and sincerely committed to moving the practice forward? Or is it a climate of competition, finger pointing, and blame where there is little or no interest in the success of others. In fact, your employees may see their coworkers as factions they must compete against for resources and recognition.
So 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. From there it requires “engagement.”
Next week, engaging your team.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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