Veterinary practices rely a lot on team work. Everything in a clinic runs alot smoother, more efficiently, and quickly if everyone works together. Communication is a big key factor in team work, as is mutual respect and understanding. Communication tools such as a patient management software (like Smartflow!), pagers, intercom, post it notes, emails etc are great for keeping all your staff in the loop of what is happening. Respect is a big part of making a team work, because if there is no respect, chances are your team will not work well together. Teamwork is key, for the health of your patients, the happiness of your clients, the well being of your technicians, and the efficiency of your practice. Being a part of a team takes work, though, as it has to be a joint effort. So, what can you do when your team is failing to communicate, failing to cooperate, and starting to fall apart? I read a great article the other day by Karyn Gavzer for dvm 360 on how to make your staff work as a team and have summarized the key points below.
Here are some ways that you can get your team back together :
1. Have a clear goal
If you have a clear goal, then you are giving your team something to strive towards. This will give your team a sense of purpose, as well as a sense of achievement once the goal is reached. This can give members of your team a sense that they each have something in common, which can open doors to finding out what else they have in common. This can bond your team, making it easier to work together. This also ties into the second point the article talked about, which is setting specific goals, rather than a ‘blanket’ goal that is not definitively reachable. You want to be able to have your team check off this task, so to speak, and gain the sense of achievement. It’s like making your bed when you first get up in the mornings. A simple, clear and specific task that you can complete will give you a sense of accomplishment, and will motivate you to do more for the rest of the day. Mind you, I swear by this. I make my bed every morning (even before my coffee!), even if my cats make a chaotic mess out of it by the end of the day, because knowing that I have accomplished even one task that day before coffee makes me more motivated.
Make sure that there is accountability. If you set tasks for your team leaders (such as a head technician or a practice manager), make sure that you follow up. Give praise where praise is due, but also be sure to give constructive criticism if something isn’t working the way you think it should. If you give the team a task, make sure you keep the team accountable if they don’t complete it, but reward them if they do. Make sure to identify barriers to completion, as well as what they can do better next time. This ties in to having individual reviews, where skills and attitude can be discussed. Reviews are a safe place to talk about any issues that the team member may be having that would hinder him/her to be a full member of the team. They can be tough, as criticism is not always taken well, however if you make sure that you give constructive criticism, keep it professional and always lead with something good that they have done in the past, people are more likely to absorb the critique. For example, if a technician is great with clients, but needs to work on spending less time in the exam room, you can lead by saying that they are great with clients, and you like that they make clients feel comfortable, however they have other technician duties that also need to be addressed. Using specific examples can help make a person realize the error of their ways, and they can know what to look out for when handling that type of situation again
3. Create a supportive team environment
A supportive environment can make your team flourish. It means giving them room to grow and be able to handle more tasks and also more complex tasks. If you restrict growth or creativity, you’re likely to stunt team development. Ensure that you identify mistakes as they come along, but support your team through them. Mistakes are part of the game, it’s how we all learn. If you teach your team that mistakes are bad and punishable, not only will they not fess up that they did something wrong, but they’re likely to hide their mistakes, which can be detrimental to your patients, clients, clinic and your team. Mistakes will happen, that’s the reality of it. However treat each mistake as a learning opportunity. Let your team know that you have their back, as long as they are aware that a mistake has been made and that they learn from it. The article states ‘The important thing is not to cast blame, but rather, to help the team learn from a mistake, correct the course, and do better the next time.’ And I think that this is a key factor in team growth and understanding.
4. Train your team members!
It’s important that you take the time to train your staff. If your staff doesn’t know what you expect of them, then how are they expected to succeed your expectations? A well trained staff member should always know what their role is, and how they function in the team. Untrained members will not only slow down your team, and minimize efficiency, but they can cause a strain on other team members who now have to pick up the slack. Ensuring that you train each member fully before setting them loose on the clinic, specifically on solo shifts, will minimize frustrations, both for the new team member and the old veterans. This also ties back into ensuring that you have reviews, a safe space to discuss expectations and give constructive criticism on performance
While rewards can be overused, as the article states, it’s important to still have both individual and group based rewards. Individual rewards are clear, like raises and bonuses or an extra day off, however they should be used only when truly earned. If you have a team member who is just doing ‘okay’ give them an incentive to show you what they can really do, and make sure they can maintain this, before you reward them with a raise or bonus. Group rewards can be a little bit more difficult, but a simple lunch or coffee-palooza can be just as rewarding and motivating as a bonus. If your team had a hard day, with clients being demanding left right and center, emergency after emergency walking through the door and a lot of difficult patients, but they kept their cool and lived up to what you expected of them, why not reward them with a round of coffee the next day? (or better yet - cake! Who doesn’t love cake?!)
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and the article will say it a third time on top of, communication is key! Communication is a key part of any relationship, even a relationship between team members. Team meetings can become a hassle, and can very quickly go off into tangents. Well organized and efficient team meetings are a great place to open communication and review any problems that may be hindering your team. Everyone should have their time to talk and raise issues, and these issues should be addressed, however there should be clear start and stop times and they should be enforced. Set some time aside to have your ‘pow-ow’, but then make sure your team knows that they have to get down to business. Should new ideas and suggestions arise that you would like to implement, make sure that you assign these to someone to ensure accountability.
7. Be accessable for your team
This one isn’t necessarily mentioned in the article, but I also think it’s a big part of having a good team. Should a team member ever have conflict with another team member, it is important that they be able to talk to you about it. If conflict goes unaddressed for too long it can turn into a very messy blow out that nobody wants to deal with and sometimes cannot be controlled. If your team feels comfortable enough with you that they feel they can confide their troubles with you, then that’s a great start. Make sure that you take everyone’s feelings into account though, as every story has two (or more!) sides!
So there you have it. I highly recommend reading THIS ARTICLE. It was a very beneficial read to me, and I can only recommend you read it, even if you have a well oiled machine of a team. You never know, you may find one or two things that you can adapt into your own clinic! Do you have any other thoughts on the matter? If you do, please comment below or send me an email firstname.lastname@example.org!