Mark your spot

flagsEvery member of the team is a cog in the operational wheel of a practice, so each individual’s skill set will determine how your team functions as a whole.
The key to creating a dream team, in which everyone works in synergy, is to have the right person in the right job – but that isn’t always easy because jobs keep changing! Just look at Care Quality Commission compliance, which has become an integral part of day-to-day life for every member of the team.
These days, nurses have to validate sterilisers and conduct audits, as well as provide chairside assistance. Receptionists have to constantly monitor and record patient feedback and review referral systems, and practice managers have to document every single aspect of compliance in preparation for assessment. Organisational activities can be clinical and non-clinical, and some of the non-clinical activities can sit with nurses as well as with receptionists and practice managers.

Frameworks and development
As a leader, your role is to standardise and improve all your practice processes and provide a clear framework for the team to work within. A staff handbook can go a long way to ensuring that every member of the team knows the practice policies, procedures and systems.
Many practices have small teams, with a high level of dependency on individual knowledge and skill sets, so staff should be cross-trained, multi-skilled and able to support each other when necessary.
If a team member has the competencies, capabilities and desire to enlarge their job, this can, and should, be nurtured with additional roles and responsibilities.
Personal development plans are essential if your team is to function in unison, so it is well worth taking the time to induct, train and appraise each team member in order to harness individual potential. If meetings bore your team to tears, or shutting down has too great an impact on revenue, consider each person’s learning style and consider innovative methods of training, such as:
• Online learning videos and quick links to national guidance that can be fitted into short time frames, such as unexpected free time when a patient does not show up
• Short quizzes to test assimilation of knowledge
• Delegation of practice tasks such as fire checks, records audits or marketing campaigns for those who ‘learn by doing’.
A combination of techniques will help you to ensure there is something for everyone.

Attitudes and roles
Take a look at the people in your team and assess the energy they bring to the practice. Which members of your team behave like victims, and which behave like victors? The optimistic team member who sees an opportunity in every challenge keeps the practice buoyant and productive. The pessimist can rapidly bring the team down with every challenge portrayed as an obstacle.
What is your take on your role in the practice? Is your glass half full or half empty? If it’s half empty, what can you do to change it?

Personality traits
If a team is not working well together, consider if you have the right team member in the right role. Also, ensure the personality is most suited to the task in hand. For example, a task-orientated person may find working on reception frustrating, while a people-oriented person may hate the facilities management side of compliance but enjoy conducting patient satisfaction surveys.
By writing job descriptions and matching personalities to workloads, team members can be placed where they are happiest and happy teams create great working atmospheres.
A happy member of staff will tend to be the person whose day-to-day tasks suit his or her personality, and I find using personality assessments fantastic tools for practices to create more synergy in their teams. Team members need to be appreciated; praise and recognition are often bigger motivators than financial rewards, but different personalities respond to different strokes.
Success in the arena of people management comes from tailoring support to individual personalities (and this is as true for patients as it is for staff).
‘DISC’ profiles have their origins in the work of Dr William Marston, whose book, Emotions of Normal People (published in 1928), explained how people can be understood and fall into four distinct and predictable types or styles of behaviour (dominant, interacting, steady, cautious).
Using DISC profiling helps to see people – both team members and patients – differently. A DISC profile is not a test or an evaluation of how good or bad a person is. It is a tool that opens a doorway of communication, allowing us to better understand why people do what they do, and even why we do what we do. DISC helps place team members in an environment where they can become top performing loyal team members, and to communicate with patients in a way that they can relate to.
Most people exhibit one or two dominant traits, although it is important to be aware that these can change when people are under pressure.
There are questionnaires and explanations that can be found online, which make fascinating reading (visit the Dentabyte Facebook page to find out more). As you read about DISC profiles, you are bound to visualise a member of your team who fits with each one.

Team communication
In isolation, every team member has a sense of what needs to happen to get through the day, but some of the main frustrations in a practice come from a lack of communication and pre-planning, which can lead to demotivation:
• Why wasn’t the lab work checked this morning?
• I didn’t know she was off today
• Why did the last patient in the diary cancel… again?
• How did the patient manage to leave without paying?
• Were the recalls sent out last month?
The value of meetings, memos and internal newsletters or communication systems cannot be underestimated for disseminating knowledge and developing skills in your team, and for developing a positive organisational culture based on learning from sharing knowledge and fostering feedback instead of allocating blame.
For a team to function as a whole, consider training in verbal and non-verbal communication, active listening and the importance of embracing the concept of a ‘no blame’ learning culture. Once the culture in the practice is established, ensure that all new team members recruited are inducted and supported into this culture.
It is essential that team leaders lead by example when using techniques for developing their teams, such as matching (doing the same as the other person) and mirroring (being the mirror image of the other person). Good communicators often do this anyway at a subconscious level with gestures, facial expressions and body language, and it goes a long way towards making people feel comfortable.

System corrections
A dental practice manager has two roles:
• Strategic – vision and long-term planning
• Operational – administration and supervision.
In a ‘no blame’ environment, leaders and managers look for system correction rather than people correction. A good way to get the whole team engaged in change is to look at their individual perceptions of their roles and see if they align with the owner’s perceptions.
Try this little exercise – ask each member of the team to make four lists:
• 10 jobs that are productive for the practice
• 10 jobs that they enjoy
• 10 jobs they find stressful
• 10 jobs they find time consuming.
This provides an excellent tool for ensuring productive jobs are allocated sufficient time and resource, changing systems around stressful and time-consuming tasks and ensuring that staff do more of what they enjoy.

Seema Sharma is honourary lecturer in entrepreneurship and management at the Dental Institute, King’s College London. She is also the founder and CEO of Dentabyte Ltd. For further information, visit

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