Do You Have ‘Taskwork’ or Teamwork?
General Motors CEO Mary Barra and the automobile company she runs are taking a beating over the ignition switch fiasco that, at this writing, has led to considerable fallout for the corporation that taxpayers bailed out just a few years ago. As Ms. Barra has faced scrutiny during hearings on Capitol Hill, in the course of her testimony she has lamented the “silos” in the organization and a “culture” that was focused more on cost. No question, GM is a huge company, and what we are witnessing is yet one more example of what system failure looks like on a titanic scale.
But culture and communication are serious issues that can lead to serious outcomes in every organization and every business, regardless of their size. The dental practice is no exception. Individual employees commonly carve out their niches. “Beth” is responsible for one area. “Emily” takes full ownership of another, while “Mike” is in charge of his. So what’s the problem? There’s a delicate balance between taking ownership of your responsibilities and building walls or silos, as the case may be.
The “silo effect” 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 individual functions, but there is no link between them. That’s not a problem out on the farm, but in the workplace it’s a different story. The silo effect is another way of describing that 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 how each system intertwines with the others or how a seemingly wise decision at one point in the process could have catastrophic outcomes at another.
The silo effect can occur in the dental practice when there is a lack of communication or common objectives among the different areas - the clinical staff and the business staff, the doctor and the hygienists, etc. Individuals have 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 a patient pursue an extensive treatment plan, not realizing that the patient already carries a significant balance on their account. The collections coordinator is to increase collections, but is frustrated by the doctor’s actions. “I 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. But there’s no effective communication between the silos.
The hygienist provides care to the patients who show up, but her production continues to fall short. 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 the hygienist can’t increase her production or the practice’s.
Resentment builds on all fronts, including with 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. After all, she’s the one who will get the bonus, not me.” Each person is so focused on her/his individual duties that it seems no one has any concept of the bigger picture - but in many offices, that bigger picture has never been painted. Consequently, the collective interests of the practice as a whole suffer.
If there are common goals or a common purpose, they don’t have a chance in this type of 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 that they barely 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?”
Next week, breakdown the walls; build the team.
For more information on this topic, visit my blog: The Lighter Side
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