Rallying the Troops: Strategies for Success—Strategies/Collaboration
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2019
C. Villaverde Haro
Consultant, Expert Pet Nutrition, Fermoy, Ireland

Let’s start with an important note. The team includes everybody. It amazes me when people comment about the team as a separate entity to the veterinarians or owners. You are all in it together—each person committed to a common goal in their own way. This is why one of the most critical elements of a team—for any team member—is knowing what is expected of you. The other would be what is expected of us.

The team serves a big picture purpose. Each team member also serves a purpose, and that purpose is directly related to the team’s purpose. How can you all be working towards common goals if you don’t know what they are and what your role is within them? If people are to work collaboratively, they must be unified in the reason they exist as a team. Whether a mission statement, vision statement, core values or other element that identifies a way of “being,” we must remember that these are tools to be utilized, not static pieces. Do not get distracted by language. One person’s mission might be interpreted as a part of another’s values, and at the end of the day, what matters is that your team has language and a structure that resonates with them. Include them in the creation of these philosophical elements when possible and involve them regularly in conversations that put these elements to the test for team comprehension, alignment and adherence (especially in light of new team members and an ever-changing environment). No matter what, a structure that sets the tone of who we are, how we want to be and what our goals are as a group, is an important foundation for the team.

Team Meetings

Scheduled team meetings are a necessary component of successful practices. The concept that, with minimal distraction, the team can come together and discuss ideas, operations, medicine and service are key. Meetings can also help to develop and reinforce culture, best practices and team dynamic. Meetings should be a safe space, a place where people come together to contribute honestly for the good of the team and practice. There should be the understanding that we all want to be our best, and constructive feedback about things that are not working should be welcomed. Attitude is everything.

Create an Agenda

Structure and an eye on timing are important. Allow for “new business,” but don’t lose track of things being worked on from previous meetings. Involve the team in agenda topics.

Rotate the Chair

Meetings do not always have to be led by the same person throughout. Give others a voice, assign topics to different people, share the stage.

Keep Minutes

It is important to document discussions, outcomes, ideas and things to follow up on. Minutes also allow missing team members the opportunity to stay informed (consider having minutes initialed by those who have missed a meeting, to acknowledge their review).


Utilize representatives from companies to keep your team educated, but do not only hold meetings for guests. Encourage in-house training and mentorship.

Have Fun

Create games for sharing examples of good service and bad service, maintaining “house pride,” achieving goals (financial, compliance or otherwise), etc.


The team shares in situations that only they will be able to relate to. Acknowledge patients who have passed away, debrief tough cases/customer service interactions, find silver linings and learnings.

Dog Park

Don’t lose sight of things that come up along the way. Just because the thought doesn’t fit with the current topic of discussion, have a “dog park” (traditionally referred to as a “parking lot”) for topics to come back to. This allows for focus without losing a valuable thought/idea.

Reflect or Contradict

These are two words with a great deal of power when you are trying to hold yourselves accountable to outcomes. Are we reflecting or contradicting things that we have deemed important? You can use this as an exercise to assess personal behaviours, tools currently used or being created in the practice, marketing materials and customer service (to name a few). By utilizing these two words, we can open a conversation around whether something is working or not and what we need to do to rectify it. The word “contradict” generally brings about an emotional response with the team, as it acknowledges that we are somehow creating an outcome that is opposite to the thing we have agreed to be committed to. If the team identifies a contradiction, it immediately creates buy-in that a change is required.

Team Acknowledgement

Create opportunities for hard work and above-and-beyond moments to be highlighted, rewarding when appropriate. Have a “shout-out” board for team members to publicly acknowledge or thank each other. Post thank you notes and testimonials from clients so that they can celebrate their successes.

Team Engagement

Allow team members the knowledge necessary to effect a positive change. While financial information doesn’t necessarily need to be shared, setting targets or key performance indicators, so that the team can collaborate with the intent to help as many animals or people as possible, can be very helpful for overall business performance. Tracking metrics that are relevant to team members (i.e. number of wellness tests, fecals, new clients, etc.) engages them and allows them to be aware of how we are doing with compliance of things that truly matter to animal health. Incentivize in a way that makes sense for your team and practice. Incentives don’t have to be costly; food (i.e. lunch/dinner of their choice, fun snacks, sundae bar), gift cards (i.e. restaurant/coffee, local mall, movies, gas, grocery), outings (meals, movies, escape room, axe-throwing etc.) and money on employee accounts are all examples of ways to give back and reward responsibly.

Addressing Resistance

Resistance to change may arise for several reasons. There is a handy model (SCARF—first published by David Rock) that allows you to keep track of areas through which discomfort may arise when changes are occurring:

  • Status—is my personal status going to be affected by this change? Will my importance be diminished?
  • Certainty—what is the future going to look like? Will I feel comfortable with my new reality?
  • Autonomy—am I going to lose my level of control? Will I still have the freedom to work my way?
  • Relatedness—are my relationships with the rest of the team going to be affected?
  • Fairness—is this going to be fair to me? Will people be treated equally or differently to me?

Being aware of these areas for concern (and therefore resistance) will allow you to address them in advance. While we cannot anticipate every scenario, conversations around upcoming changes can be built to acknowledge the things that may be at the forefront of people’s minds.

Implementing Changes

There is often an insecurity that arises from trying new things. Some team members worry that a new behaviour will negatively affect existing processes, while others worry that the goal of the change will not be met and yet the change will remain in place indefinitely.

Utilizing a system to manage changes can give the team peace-of-mind that if positive outcomes are not achieved, it will be noticed and addressed accordingly.

1.  Start with your goal. What is the thing you are trying to achieve?

2.  Decide on the strategy and tactic you believe will achieve this goal. This is the change you want to implement.

3.  Agree on who is going to be responsible/accountable for the implementation of the change. This leaves the other members of the team in a support role—everybody should be aware of the change, even if they are not ultimately responsible for carrying it out.

4.  Assign a time frame for implementation. Measure the results immediately, but keep in mind that there is usually a short period of confusion where people are trying to remember to implement the change, alter a habit and/or begin the new behaviour consistently. Track the change: is it working, how often, is it going the way we expected, what issues have we identified? Measure and monitor the outcomes of the change.

5.  Utilize a meeting or rounds to discuss feedback on the change. What does our measuring/monitoring indicate?

Are we achieving our initial goal? If yes, is there any negative fallout? If no, then great! However, if we are not achieving our goal, or if there have been negative consequences as a result of our change, then what tweaks can be made of our existing tactic in order to achieve the goal without undesirable side-effects? Does our tactic need to be replaced altogether? Is our goal realistic?

By tracking our change through this system, we can avoid some of the pitfalls that usually come with changes: inconsistent implementation, ineffective changes, adverse effects. This gives the team a sense of security that changes will benefit them and achieve goals, not just waste time or have negative impact.


Speaker Information
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C. Villaverde Haro
Expert Pet Nutrition
Fermoy, Ireland