Is your team shaken or stirred?

cocktail shaken or stirred?In this article, Nicki Rowland, explores her concept of the ‘Cocktail Effect’ and how this can have a direct impact on the performance of your team.

Do you have the perfect cocktail?

Every day that we go into work we face hurdle after hurdle. Complaining patients, difficult team members, time constraints and compliance issues are regular issues that add to the stress and strains of the working day.

Working as a team has its challenges, don’t we know? Add to the mixture a drop of tension, a sprinkling of criticism and a dash of attitude and you have a cocktail for disaster.

Team members fall out, they lose motivation and resentment sets in. The foundations of your practice can hypothetically begin to quake.

Any leader, whether it is in dentistry or another sector, has the job of identifying the most appropriate leadership style that ensures harmony, commitment and accountability in our businesses. We have the responsibility of formulating the perfect cocktail.

Why is Nicki likening what can happen in the workplace with the making of a cocktail, you might be asking yourself. Well, read on and find out.

The cocktail effect in practice

The quote ‘shaken, not stirred’ is synonymous with the fictional film character James Bond when ordering martinis. The words shaken and stirred share a similar meaning to most of us.

However, for bar tenders the words mean very different things. Whether a cocktail is shaken or stirred can have a significant impact on the attributes of the drink.

Similarly, whether your team is ‘shaken’ or ‘stirred’ has a direct impact on how individuals perform, react and behave. It’s your leadership style that determines the results. Let me explain.


Shaken refers to a cocktail that we prepare by placing all the ingredients in a metal cocktail shaker and shaking it vigorously.

In a shaken cocktail, the temperature drops significantly because the ice cubes break up, melt quickly and make the drink very cold and more dilute.

Similarly, the ‘temperature’ of your company culture can be directly affected by the way in which you choose to handle a situation.

If you go in wielding a big stick, hackles will rise, nerves will fray and individuals will become distinctly frosty. Motivation and morale then plummet and standards and performance is ‘diluted’ across the board.

Particles in a shaken drink are also more volatile and reactive. The shaking action energises them and they react with other ingredients more readily.

Equally, ‘shaken’ team members are more reactive and their tolerance to stressful situations is significantly reduced. When their ‘highball’ glass is already full, all it takes is a low key event for it to overflow.

Some people believe that shaking gin bruises it and loses its original flavour. Likewise, team members who have had their self-esteem battered by an autocratic leader can become stubborn and resistant leading to under-performance and sub-standards.


Stirred refers to a cocktail that has been prepared by placing the ingredients in a steel jar and gently mixing them with a spoon. The result reveals a slower cooling process and the qualities of the alcohol seem more readily preserved.

The goal of a proper stirring technique is to do the exactly the opposite of shaking, ie avoiding aerating and agitating the drink.

In our businesses, the benefits of ‘stirring’ using a democratic leadership style are significant. A good leader always takes the initiative and encourages others to go the extra mile and push the boat out to achieve results.

A good splash of charisma is a key ingredient to inspiring others. Once you have their attention, you can gain your team’s commitment to achieve other goals in the practice and look towards future success.

With a well-balanced leadership style, you can coordinate tasks well, delegate them accordingly and complete them ahead of schedule.

If team members are ‘stirred’ steadily and smoothly, all the team will move in one direction at a constant pace (just like molecules in a liquid) and the results will be very appetising.

Do you require a different method?

Pre lockdown I noticed that no matter which bar I go into most bar tenders shake drinks rather than stir them. This is most unfortunate.

Through my research (and the sampling of a few cocktails?), I learned that shaking doesn’t necessarily produce a quality cocktail. Stirring is a better method.

Similarly, on walking into dental practices that I consult for, I witness varying leadership styles.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 crisis has really shaken up the management of organisations and I see five main leadership styles emerging.

There are pros and cons to each approach so let us explore them in more detail:

Authoritarian leadership 

A leadership style that imposes expectations and determines outcomes.

It is often a ‘one-man show’ with the leader having a ‘it’s my way or the highway’ mind set. This can be advantageous if the leader is more knowledgeable than the team and needs to give clear guidelines.

However, this sacrifices creativity with limited input from the team and a synergistic, collaborative way of working is lost. Team members can become disenchanted and resentful and staff retention decreases.

Participative leadership 

This approach stands deep rooted in democratic theory. The essence is to engage team members in decision-making and encourage a cohesive way of working.

The leader will generally have the last word but everyone has a voice that is heard. This leadership style increases motivation and job satisfaction and allows individuals to be innovative.

The downside is that the decision-making process can take a great deal of time and productivity can reduce.

Delegative leadership 

A ‘laissez-faire leadership’ style, which focuses heavily on delegation.

Team members can find this positive and very empowering. Provided they are competent, motivated and given the required time to complete tasks.

However, disputes may arise when ‘command responsibility’ is not clearly defined. A team may then become divided and morale plummets.

Transactional leadership

The leader uses rewards, punishments and other transactions to do the job.

This ‘give and take’ style means that the leader sets rigid goals and rewards team members for their compliance. This approach focuses on following institutionalised regimes and procedures in an efficient manner, rather than driving change or improvement to an organisation.

The upside is that results can be measured, team members know exactly what they have to do and that appropriate rewards (or penalties) will follow. However, the ‘managing with a big stick’ approach loses empathy and team members become subservient.

Transformational leadership 

The leader inspires their team with a vision and purpose that encourages and empowers them to achieve it.

The leader ‘leads from the front’ and shows their team the way. They are a ’yardstick’. They make expectations of quality clear, live those expectations and have a zest for life. Transformational leaders get a complete buzz from seeing their team flourish and grow. This motivates and energises staff. This drives them to achieve and develop.

The downside to this leadership approach is that standards are high and expectations are even higher. It requires constant work from the leader to sustain standards and keep their team buoyant.

What does your cocktail taste like?

No leadership style is a stand-alone entity and it is important to recognise that different leadership styles are more appropriate than others in various situations.

You may have a ‘four seasons in one day’ scenario so mimicking a single style could have limited success.

For me, it is all about creating your own cocktail, your own flavour, your own brand. Leadership is therefore not just a process of delivering a certain response at a given time. It is instead about using your natural leadership strengths in an authentic way to inspire and motivate others.

Much like a cocktail, it is getting the right blend of ingredients to produce a delectable result.

If you have enjoyed reading this article and need any support in practice, contact me at [email protected] or [email protected].

This article first appeared in Private Dentistry magazine. You can read the latest issue here.

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