Team dynamics – do you understand your dental team?

dental team dynamicsJamie Morley explores the dynamics at play within the dental team and how to ensure the team is aware of their own performance.

It is of course very important to lead the individuals in your team effectively and have an awareness of your individual relationships with people.

At the same time you must also make sure that the team is working effectively between themselves and understand the dynamics at play. These can easily be missed.

In some ways it is a bit like reading the room when you are presenting. You have to understand the dynamics that are at play in the group. If you don’t do this you can easily carry on in complete ignorance of a team dynamic that may seriously affect performance.

It is also the case that the team itself may not understand or have any awareness of the dynamics that are at play.

Measuring success

One of the initial challenges in building a high-performing team is defining when a team is performing well. How do you define and measure how well your team is performing? Is it based purely on results? If so, which results?

In sport, it is easy to measure the success of a team as the outcomes are black and white. You either win, draw or lose.

In business, it is not quite so easy. For sure, sales figures and profit margins are an important indicator that reflect on the performance of the overall team.

But you need to give them context to have meaning. The relative success indicated by the results achieved by a business depends on your expectations.

What revenue are you looking to generate in the coming year? What profit?

Setting goals gives people something to strive for, and sharing the progress they are making as a team is a significant motivator for people. Yet, it doesn’t necessarily define a high performing team.

As well as numbers, there are more subjective elements of behaviours and team dynamics which you can look at to understand how well you are performing as a team.

What are the behaviours that really matter to the business? To what level are the team displaying these behaviours? What evidence suggests that the team is doing well or badly in this regard? What dynamics are at play between team members?

Dentistry’s top stories

There is more evidence emerging in terms of what behaviours and dynamics are important for high performing teams. As a leader you have to develop an awareness of these.

Whilst you may deliver good business results, those results could be even better if there were ways you could operate more effectively as a team.

Being able to identify and accurately assess these factors, as well as knowing how to maintain and improve on them is important. First, though, you have to develop an awareness.

Developing an awareness

One of the ways to do this is to take a step back and look at it yourself. Define specific areas that you believe are the most important for your team to demonstrate in terms of how they are working together and score them based on your observations. See what you can pick up on from the team.

Notice when there are awkward glances or silences when specific topics come up. Observe where there are difficulties between individuals.

Broader dynamics to watch for are as follows:

Team splits

Is a serious split developing in the team? This can be for multiple different reasons, such as around a specific difference of opinion on a specific topic or a real clash and fall out between two people and then the broader team start to take sides.

It may start with off the cuff comments against the other team that seem fairly innocuous.

Watch to make sure this doesn’t evolve into something bigger. This can be very detrimental to the performance of the team. They spend all their energy on fighting each other rather than on moving the practice towards what it wants to achieve.

Address this immediately.

Bad apples

Be on the look out for any ‘bad apples’ that are negatively influencing the rest of the team or any ‘good apples’ that are positively influencing the rest of the team.

It is a tricky thing to identify bad apples. Be sure that they are really negatively impacting the broader team, rather than they are the people who are actually willing to speak up. These people are really important to keep and listen to.

Bad apples are not those people, but rather the people who are negatively impacting others in the team.

Share of voice

Consider the share of voice that is going on. Is it relatively equal or are a small number dominating?

Psychological safety

Is it an environment where people feel safe enough to be vulnerable, challenge, ask for help and admit mistakes?

Or is there an unspoken rule that doesn’t allow this to happen?

Overall team results first

Are people helping and supporting each other or is it very individual? Is there a willingness to put the overall team first rather than their individual role?

The overall progress and performance of the practice must come first.

Improving the team dynamics

Allied to your own awareness, you also want to raise awareness within the team itself, who may be totally unaware of it. To call it out and put a spotlight on it.

‘I sensed in the clinic today that people seemed a bit on edge. Would you agree with that? If so, what do you feel that is about?’

Ask with genuine curiosity and with a want to raise awareness in the team and to understand it.

Encourage people to share any concerns or observations of their own. At this stage, simply start to raise awareness.

While your observations of the team are valuable, your view and the view of the team will be skewed and you may be missing something that is going on.

Much like individuals, as a team, we develop implicit bias. To overcome this, it is very useful to bring in a coach to coach the whole team.

They bring a fresh, external perspective that does not have the implicit bias that the team has developed over time.

To go alongside this there are tools out there that get all team members to individually and anonymously score the overall team on certain dynamics and behaviours. This will give you a much clearer overview.

I use a great tool for this called the Five Behaviors Team Development Profile. This helps create awareness within teams of how they are working.

When you have this information and the whole team is aware of it, you can work on the areas where there are gaps.

Team dynamics

In summary, you must develop your awareness of how the team is performing; not just in terms of numeric results but also with regards to specific behaviours and some of the dynamics that may be at play.

Develop the team’s own awareness of their behaviours. Use your own observations and enquiries to understand how well the team is working.

Work with an external coach and ideally use a tool that enables you to collect the views of the rest of the team anonymously on how they are doing.

You will then have an awareness of the team dynamics at play, from which you can act.


Read more from Jamie Morley

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