What Makes a Great Team?
By: Dr. Mike Dolby
Great people make a great team, right? That’s true, but it depends on how you
Unfortunately, many dental practice owners get it wrong. They assume a great
team member is someone who has a vast amount of experience with your particular
practice management software or a dental assistant who can make amazing
temporaries. These people may be great individually at those certain tasks, but the
practice may still suffer if these individuals are unable to work as a team towards a
The film, The Wizard of Oz, in my opinion, is the best team-building parable in
A Kansas farm girl, Dorothy, is sucked into a tornado and dropped into the magical
Land of Oz. Her “landing” in Oz accidentally kills the Wicked Witch of the East,
which creates a powerful enemy—the Wicked Witch of the West. On her quest to
return home to Kansas, Dorothy travels down the Yellow Brick Road to seek help
from the great and powerful Oz. Along the way, she meets the Scarecrow who
wants a BRAIN, the Tin Man who is in search of a HEART, and the Lion who
They share a common goal of reaching the powerful Oz, so he may grant them
their wishes. This oddball team overcomes incredible odds and kills the Wicked
Witch of the West only to discover that the great and powerful Oz is not so great
and powerful after all. However, Dorothy and her friends discover a truth that is
more powerful than any magic: Everything they desired—brains, heart, courage,
and the ability to return home—had been right inside of them all along. They had
to look no further than within themselves.
In the end, the power of a team was greater than any individual—including the
Wicked Witch of the West.
“The Wizard of Oz” Lessons for Team Members:
• Assemble a diverse team.
• Work toward a clear goal.
• Encourage the greatness of your team’s natural talent.
• Keep moving forward, especially when things get tough.
• Be conscious of the resources that are already in front of you.
Top Ten Qualities of a GREAT TEAM MEMBER
(3) Communication Skills
(4) Customer Service
(9) Strive to be an Expert
(10) Laugh, Live, and Celebrate
This is the first and most important quality to look for in any team member. You
cannot teach someone to be friendly, and this certainly should not be overlooked.
Do not make the mistake of being swayed by a person’s clinical or front office
skills and think that you will be able to teach them to be friendly and make patients
feel welcome in your practice. This will never happen, at least not consistently. I
will always take a personable, outgoing, friendly person over a technically skilled
person. I can teach you the technical stuff, but I can’t teach you to be nice.
How can you tell if someone is friendly? Watch how they interact with other
people. Observe how they address you when meeting for the first time. Did they
greet you with a handshake and a smile while making eye contact, or were they
nervous, shy, and unsure?
You need every member of your team to be outgoing and happy, so that your
patients feel relaxed when they are in your office. The practice of dentistry comes
with enough negative connotations, and we certainly don’t need anymore,
especially coming from your own team members.
Great team members are employees you can count on. They show up to work on
time and have prepared themselves for the day. They say what they mean and mean
what they say. They are RELIABLE. There is nothing more challenging than a
non-reliable team member.
How can you tell if someone is reliable? You can ask, “How many continual days
of attendance at work would you consider satisfactory? How many days of work
did you miss last year?”
They should answer, without hesitation, that all team members should make it to
work on time every day unless there is an emergency in which they would notify
the appropriate person with as much notice as possible. Great team members want
to be punctual and consider attendance an important part of their job description.
Effective communication is an important quality when running a busy dental
practice. Communication among team members and with patients is crucial to the
success of your practice. Every team member has a responsibility to master
effective communication in order to create VALUE for the services you are
offering. Communication leads to rapport with your patients, who are evaluating
every aspect of your team—especially how members communicate with each
People communicate with each other for three primary reasons:
(1) It makes us feel good.
(2) It is a cry for help.
(3) It is an attempt to see a “new result.”
Effective communication in your office should accomplish the following:
(1) make your patients feel good
(2) make your team feel good
(3) create value for your patients
Most people think that words are the most important part of communication. We
worry so much about choosing just the right words to say to our patients, which
can sometime cause us to memorize lines that don’t end up conveying the message
we are actually trying to communicate.
Did you know that words only account for approximately 7% of the effectiveness
in our communication? While tonality accounts for an impressive 38% of our
communication effectiveness, and physiology (our body language) accounts for a
whopping 55%. This is clear evidence that it’s more important HOW you say
something, rather than the actual words you use.
Think about someone who is very excited about what they are saying to you. Their
body language and tone of voice speak volumes. Don’t you find yourself more
engaged and interested in what they have to say? Your answer is probably “yes.”
Communication is both verbal (words - tonality) and nonverbal (physiology -
Verbal communication is when our words are accompanied by our tonality, or the
speed and pitch of our voice. This is really important when we are speaking to a
patient over the phone. In the obvious absence of our nonverbal physiology, we
must master not only our words but also the tone in which we use them. Strive to
be congruent with the tone of the person you are speaking with. As I said before,
the quickest way to be in rapport with someone is to match and mirror their
behavior, which includes the tonality in their voice. When speaking to a person
who uses a soft tone of voice, the last thing you want to do is speak in a loud tone.
This will create disconnect with the person you are speaking with and make it
extremely difficult to build rapport or a sense of bond.
Nonverbal communication is the expression of words through body movements,
and, as stated before, this is the most powerful form of communication.
When we add excitement to our communication, it often raises the level of
curiosity with the other person and engages them in the conversation. When you
are presenting a treatment plan to a patient and you include excitement and
optimism, I guarantee your case acceptance ratio will improve.
People are attracted to people who are excited about their lives and their work.
However, you must base your level of excitement on the nonverbal physiology of
the other person. Even still, adding a little excitement to your conversation through
gestures and body movement can often raise the level of excitement of a passive or
Nonverbal communication can be positive as described above or negative. If a
patient arrives at your office on time for their appointment and you unintentionally
make them wait because you are off schedule, it can only communicate a negative
message that your time is more valuable than theirs. Or when was the last time you
updated the furniture, wall colors, and other decor in your office? Does your office
look old and run-down or does it represent the quality and professional
environment you are striving to create? Better yet, what is the condition of your
smile or your team members’ smiles? If they have not been restored to the quality
that you promote to current patients in your practice, that can be viewed as a
So how can you tell if a prospective team member is a good communicator?
Ask them, “What steps do you take to create rapport with others?”
The answer should be that they see things from another person’s perspective and
are willing to discover things they have in common. Can this person empathize
with patients? Empathy is an essential component to building rapport.
Ask the prospective team member to give you an example of the last time they had
to present a complex treatment plan in simple terms. You want to hear them
describe how they broke down complex information in order to help patients reach
a complete understanding of the treatment proposed.
A good communicator is someone who is curious and responsible enough to care
that his or her message is being heard and understood, and can work with many
different personalities. They are flexible and do not get flustered when the other
person is having a difficult time understanding what they are saying.
Customer service is more than a nice waiting room with a coffee bar and the most
current magazines. And it’s certainly more than having the most up-to-date, hightech
dental equipment to show off. Outstanding customer service is more than what
you DO for your patients, as it is defined by the CULTURE that is created within
Have you ever walked into a business and immediately felt unsure or just not
comfortable? How about a walking into a new restaurant and before you actually
spoke to anyone, you immediately felt at home and welcome? This is the culture of
these businesses speaking to you. The fact is both of the businesses described could
have been the best in their industries. However, if the culture is not congruent with
the level of product you are providing, customers will not give you a chance.
The culture in your dental office should be the creation of an environment where
the primary focus of every team member is serving your patients at the highest
level possible. However, it is impossible for the quality of customer service to
exceed the quality of the people who provide that service. Therefore, doctors must
make the investment to properly and, more importantly, continually train team
members to adopt and support the culture of the practice.
The secret to achieving a positive culture begins with every team member being
“present.” Everyone must set a goal every day to be 100% present in mind and
body while striving to exceed your patients’ expectations. This is why morning
meetings are a must because they prepare your team to start the day focused and
clear about their intentions while supporting the culture of the practice.
Here are a few examples centered on exceeding your patients’ needs:
• Dental assistants escort the patient to the treatment room walking side-byside
side instead of five paces ahead.
• A team member remains in the treatment room while the patient is getting
numb, building rapport, instead of retreating to the break room.
• Offer your patient a warm towel after their treatment and walk them out with
a sincere and genuine “thank you.”
• Follow up with a hand-written thank you note when patients refer new
customers to your practice. Likewise, send a hand- written note welcoming
new patients to your practice.
It is essential that every team member is flexible, able to “go with the flow”
without cracking under pressure. Dentistry is one of the few professions that
operates on a strict schedule. We don’t have the luxury of leaving our patient with
a rubber dam on while we take a ten-minute coffee break because we are a little
stressed out. There is no time in our schedule to go for a walk if you feel tired or,
for that matter, even to take a phone call. Our patients depend on us to accomplish
a certain task, in a certain amount of time, expecting the highest quality possible.
The treatment schedule is a living, breathing, frustrating thing that changes
constantly.The most productive and successful practices are those that adapt to
daily changes and keep their schedules productive. Changes in the schedule are a
certainty, so all team members must accept this fact and adapt to those changes
throughout the day.
I have seen team members actually become upset when a loyal patient is worked
into the schedule with an emergency. What they are really saying is, “I am
inconvenienced.” They don’t want to adapt to the needs of a patient who provides
the practice with money and referrals—they want their needs to be first.
Who wants to keep a team member like that?
Flexibility should be a part of every team member’s job description.
Anyone can complain, but it takes a great team member to not only address a
challenge that exists in the practice, but also come up with a potential solution to
that problem. It may not be the ultimate solution, but at least they are thinking
beyond just complaining. Great team members find solutions to their challenges
and don’t expect someone else to fix those challenges for them.
I’m always amazed at what lengths people will go to avoid problems or setbacks.
The reality is that problems are part of everyday life. Tony Robbins once told me
that the day you don’t have any problems in your life, is the day you are dead! So
having problems is a really good thing.
A great team member doesn’t look at a challenge as an inconvenience. They
choose to look at it as an opportunity to come up with a new solution to make the
practice better. If you want to be an invaluable team member, become a great
I think we all know the old adage, “Treat people the way you want to be treated.”
Unfortunately, in too many offices the environment or culture is so stressful and
disorganized that team members don’t always follow this rule of respect.
A great team member will always respect patients and fellow teammates. I have
witnessed team members texting or reading magazines in the break room while
their patient is forced to wait past their scheduled appointment time. How can you
exhibit this kind of disrespect and then be at a loss as to why your patients don’t
accept your treatment plans or refer their family and friends to your practice? The
message you are sending out is clear: Your time is more important than theirs.
Being respectful means you value that person and you show this through your
The Golden Age of dentistry is over. You can no longer just rent an office space,
hang a dental sign, and expect patients to flock to your door and put up with
disrespecting their time. If you choose, intentionally or unintentionally, to put
patient needs second to your own personal needs, then expect your patients to find
another more appreciative practice to join.
Great team members think consciously about what their patients must have gone
through to get to your office on time. They must have rushed to get the kids
breakfast and off to school, hustled to a meeting at work, then snuck out early, and
navigated heavy traffic, just so they could be ON TIME for their appointment.
So how do you thank that patient for being on time? Don’t make them wait for
their appointment! After all they went through to get to your office, if they are kept
waiting, the only thought running through their minds will be, Why in the hell did I
rush to get here? Trust me, they will never make that kind of effort again.
I realize some of our colleagues in the medical field couldn’t care less about
making patients wait, but you have an opportunity to set your practice up for
massive success if you just respect your patients by making it part of your culture
to stay on time.
Don’t you love being around people who just get things done? They seem to
almost have extra hours in the day. You don’t have to remind them every other day
to finish what they said they would take care of last month; they just seem to get
things done. They are proactive and self-starters that need little direction and less
A great team member will handle issues that come up in the office without having
to be told. They will fix things or make corrections when they see something out of
line. Maybe it’s organizing a more effective way to set up the instruments for
treatment cases or discovering a more efficient way to ask for patient referrals or
maybe even taking the schedule home to make confirmation calls for Monday’s
appointments. Now that’s proactive.
Great team members set the example by not overlooking situations that someone
else will have to deal with if they choose to look the other way.
BE AN EXPERT
Great team members strive to be the very best at what they do and seek out the
necessary resources to make certain they are experts. Team members that consider
themselves as experts don’t wait until their doctor takes them to a continuing
education seminar. They seek out education programs that will take their skills to
the next level.
In many offices, the doctor is the only one considered an “expert,” or lifetime
student of continuing education. However, this can also be true for team members
in any department. Your front office manager should be a master when it comes to
dealing with patients’ dental insurance, financial arrangements, and the neverending
management of the treatment schedule. Your dental assistant should know
more about bonding restorations than most dentists, and your hygienist should
have an in-depth knowledge of periodontal health and your soft tissue management
Doctors as leaders of their practices must set the example and create a culture that
supports team members to be experts.
LAUGH, LIVE, AND CELEBRATE
Life is a journey, NOT a sprint or a destination. Surround yourself with people who
appreciate their gift to be able to care for others, along with realizing the
importance of life outside of the dental office. Dentists and their teams often find
themselves in a sprint to build a practice, knock down debt, support a family, etc. ...
They forget about laughing, living, and celebrating.
Dentistry is a demanding profession that challenges the mind and body equally. It
is important that great team members celebrate both their successes and failures.
Too often we discount successes and dwell far too much on our failures. Great
team members acknowledge their failures with enthusiasm because they know they
are learning something new and will grow from the experience. Great teams also
take time to acknowledge their successes, as these are the results of having failed
in the past—and having learned from it.
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