Teamwork at its best

Linda Miles says teamwork consists of three important key elements – professionalism, attitude and leadership – and is critical to a productive and happy practice


Dentists, hygienists and dental nurses all work in a wonderful profession. They are held in high esteem by patients and coworkers. They are skilled in the art and science of dentistry and helping patients keep their natural teeth for a lifetime. This in fact often prolongs patients’ lives and improves patients’ appearances. What are some key traits of being the consummate professional?

•    Being a role model of dedication to the practice
•    Realising one’s true character shines under pressure
•    Being patient and kind to patients and coworkers
•    Presenting a neat personal appearance
•    Making an effort to keep the office tidy at all times
•    Speaking positively about the practice in and out of the office
•    Educating each patient so they will accept a higher standard of care
•    Going the extra mile even though it may not be part of one’s job description
•    Keeping priorities in the right order (patient, practice as a business, self)
•    Accepting co-workers behavioural styles even though they may not be like one’s own


We have all heard the phrase, ‘Our attitude determines the practice’s altitude. I have another phrase to add to that, ‘One’s attitude about life determines their energy level’. If you have ever worked with very lethargic people who seem to be in a rut, (a rut is a grave with both ends kicked out), you will know what I mean. Or have you worked with someone who does not share your enthusiasm for having a great day (like you planned on your way to work)? Some people have very low levels of energy, a not-so-positive attitude and frankly, its affects the entire work environment. Attitude is such an important component of teamwork. As we all know, one bad apple spoils the entire batch. It’s mighty hard to stay motivated when others around you have negative attitudes.

I truly believe that some people bring on illness, added layers of stress and bad luck by thinking negatively about most things. For them the glass is not half empty, it is almost all gone. During my seminars people often tell me, ‘I’m just burned out. I listen to their woes, how unhappy they are and have been for years, and I say to myself, ‘this person can’t be burned out. You have to be on fire to burn out and they haven’t been on fire yet.

Attitude is a frame of mind. It is how we decide to respond to negative or positive things that come our way. Attitude is a gift. It should be treasured and massaged until we realise that it is not the everyday stress in dentistry that causes us to have physical or emotional pain -it’s our attitude!


Hygienists have an opportunity to lead each day of their careers. General Norman Schwartzkoff, one of my favorite speakers on leadership describes leadership several ways.

• As a leader, you don’t have to be loved but you do have to be respected
• A leader empowers others to willingly do things they would not ordinarily do
• Leaders live in glass houses. Others watch them lead by example
• Leaders move over and let others lead, realising they will be asked to step back in front again.

These are all powerful leadership statements. In regard to respect one can never have it unless they give it! Empowerment means participative management, not dictatorial (my way or the highway). Every leader leads by example whether they want to or not. The leader must demonstrate the traits they wish to see in others. Leaders and mentors cheer others on when it is their turn to lead, knowing they will be asked to step into the leadership role once again. They are great teachers. They realise that by teaching, that’s when the leader truly learns.

The hygienists I’ve been privileged to work with and know on a personal basis are tremendous assets to their practices and to the profession. In one extreme case of insubordination, the young new dentist was, in his own words, ‘being held hostage by his long-term hygienist whom he ‘inherited’ when he purchased the practice from an older dentist.

In that practice, the hygienist set her own starting and finishing times and cancelled days at will, expecting the business team to reschedule them anytime she felt like clearing her schedule. She set her own standard of care, refusing to do recommended initial perio treatment saying ‘my patients can’t afford that’, or ‘I have carpal tunnel and refuse to do scaling and root planning’. She was non-respectful of her employer, often bad-mouthing the dentist and her co-workers to patients. Hygienists (or any other employees) with that attitude have worked past their ‘use-by date’. Employees who talk poorly about their employer are anti-marketing the practice and costing their dentist tens of thousands of dollars of lost opportunities each month. Insubordination is not teamwork!

Looking into the team environment a bit more, have you ever wondered why teamwork is at an all time high in some dental practices and an off the scale low in others? The three factors above: professionalism, attitude and leadership are best remembered as PAL. What degree of PAL does your office display?

If the dentist displays an even distribution of caring, a high level of trust, and fully outlines his/her expectations from employer to all employees, we find few problems with teamwork and respect. This is a must for the leader. Dental teams can’t ‘mind-read’ their employers. Without carefully outlined boundaries of what the employer expects, the team members individually set their own boundaries.


Each employee should make a list of their daily, weekly, quarterly and annual duties and go over these duties with their employer. The dentist must then make a list of all of the shared responsibilities and go over this list with everyone at a team meeting. Each part of the physical plant (office) must be kept spotless and ‘patient ready’ each and every day. Monthly rotation of shared responsibilities keeps it fair and assures the dentist that all areas of the practice will be at the same level of excellence as the dentistry being performed.

While I hope all dentists have a cleaning service, it is up to all staff members to keep the office spotless and clutter-free each day. If these duties are delegated to a few employees and others are exempt, this creates staff competition, jealousy and a non-team environment of resentment.

As I’ve always said in my lectures, if everyone shares the good things such as CE, team retreats, lunches out, bonuses and impromptu surprises, it is only fair to share the less favourable yet important duties that fosters positive attitudes.

It’s a known fact that ‘an attitude of gratitude’ also fosters teamwork. We tend to want to help those who express their appreciation versus those who expect help but never reciprocate. I once worked in a practice as an assistant many years ago that had a very strong and very territorial business co-worker. She made it quite clear that she did not need help from the two assistants, and told them to stay clear of her front desk business area. Needless to say, I was not a team player in that environment, except with the other assistant and the hygienist who not only appreciated a helping hand but who also offered one.
In all very successful, happy, and team-oriented dental practices, there’s a strong degree of effective communication.

Each person in the practice should make a list of areas of their own duties for which they could use a helping hand. If one person is a behavioural style that prefers doing most everything for themselves, their list will be shorter. Let that be known by saying, ‘I appreciate help from time to time but only if I ask for it’. (A nice way of politely saying, please don’t invade my space.) Or you may be one to say, ‘I’m not one to jump into others’ work areas without permission or a request’. This doesn’t mean you aren’t a team player. It simply means that your behavioural style differs from others. You might also communicate: ‘Please respect that and don’t think harshly of me, it’s just the way I prefer to work.’

Understanding each other through solid communication and how each member of the team prefers to help or be helped eliminates many assumptions and gossip relating to teamwork.

Those who work in dentistry must be true professionals at all times. Dentists are far too busy caring for their patients and running a business to put up with third grade pettiness caused by a lack of teamwork and jealousy. In future articles, I will address other issues touched on in this article such as competitive staff issues, new hygiene models, compensation fairness, office philosophies, and the purchasing power of hygienists.

Linda Miles is founder of Miles Global and a true pioneer in the field of practice management consulting. Her career spans four decades in dentistry and 30 of those years as a professional speaker. Consulting has kept her speaking topics fresh and speaking has attracted the top clinicians as clients. Linda recently teamed up with the new owner/CEO of Miles Global, Dr Rhonda Savage, to take the dental consulting business across the globe and help dental practices worldwide.

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