What You Need for a Successfully Functioning Team
World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2011
Louise S. Dunn
Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, Greensboro, NC, USA

 Learn about the different types of teams and what the advantages and disadvantages of teams are.

 Discover how to build your team to set it up for success. Find out what is draining the life out of your team.

You do it every day. You drive to the practice, enter the building, you may say "hello" to everyone or you choose to ignore them as you walk through the hospital to check your patients. You expect all those other people to function as a well-oiled machine and get the jobs completed in a timely fashion. How do you view these other people? What type of "job" do you expect them to perform? Are they People or a team? Are they "the girls" or a work group? Are they your family or a team? And just what is the difference?

If your group of people simply show up and work together in the same building doing their own tasks, then you have a Work Group. With a Work Group there is no encouragement for team performance, there is no evaluation of their joint performance. Having a Work Group means that you will hold the individual accountable for their particular job, but there is no coming together to discuss the larger picture and goals for that larger picture. Think of it as your clerks in a store - what is your money register at the end of your shift? Did you stock your assigned shelves? It doesn't matter what the whole store did, it only matters if your individual tasks were completed to the satisfaction of your direct supervisor (who most likely assigned your tasks without any collaborative effort involving you).

If, on the other hand, you see the group committed to a common goal, intertwining complementary skills to contribute to the common vision, then you have a team. Supervisors hold regular meetings and frequently involve the members in discussions that impact the business. There is both individual and mutual accountability - more along the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. There is interdependence in the group and a collective concern for the performance of every person in the group. Sports teams are the perfect example - you can't score/win unless everyone is performing their skills to the best of their ability. Emergency room teams would be another example. Each nurse, each doctor, each technician has a particular task to perform when that emergency case is rushed in - working as a "well oiled machine" results in a win-win situation for the team and for the person experiencing the emergency.

When your group progresses from individuality to striving for a common goal then you are entering the high-commitment level. High-Commitment teams have open communication, trust, equality and accountability.

As the group matures, it can take responsibility for decision making, conducting peer reviews and training other team members. The group can evolve from self-managed (less supervision and more emphasis on the team members to plan and manage the day and their tasks), to self-directed (even less supervision and more team autonomy) via leadership, increased empowerment and personal involvement of each team member.

Team building requires effort to develop. You cannot leave it up to chance. Leadership is still necessary. The leader(s) must still communicate the vision and establish a mission for the team. Otherwise, the team will have no understanding of the goals or how they are supposed to contribute to the growth of the business. (In other words, just what job are they supposed to be getting done?). Expand this idea a little further and you should be able to see how the leadership can also include personal growth of each team member into their vision.

In all teams, and at all levels, it is extremely important to include communication, trust, empowerment and relationship concerns. Why are these important? Because ignoring these can drain your team of productive energy.

When the team has unclear goals (lack of communication) or when personal agendas are pursued to the detriment of the team's goals (relationships), the team finds itself with competing goals and not functioning as a well oiled machine. What if your technician has decided that pursuing a behavior specialty is the best course and the business wants to do more surgeries? There is a disconnect, people are discouraged, tasks are done with different goals in mind.

When communication fails and relationship differences develop between team members then cliques develop and the common goal is lost to behavior problems. What if your doctor feels that a customer service representative is disrespectful in her communication? Suddenly there are attitudes, gossip, hurt feelings, perhaps even a medical snafu because the two won't speak to each other.

When there is no clear leadership, the team spends more time worrying about "who's in charge" instead of what they should be doing. Control issues soon overtake the common goals. What if the owner of the practice or the supervisor does not lead the team, the team cannot capitalize on their skills and abilities for the common goal. Instead, the surgery team feels their tasks have a higher priority than the exam room team, and the receptionists can't understand why the appointments are backing up and why won't anyone step up and get the appointments flowing....there is a cascade effect of whose situation is more important, and no one will take charge to solve the snag. In the end, the pet suffers.

When the team gets involved in contention over what the team's values are, or what the team's identity is, or what behaviors are appropriate then common values are lost and goals cannot be achieved. What if the team doesn't know what performance improvement is needed? What happens when accountability fails? Then you have dissention and chaos.

When the team doubts its ability to achieve goals, or have an impact, then the members become helpless and simply go through the motions rather than making a difference. They will commonly refer to the fact that is just doesn't matter what they say or think, because they won't be heard or involved. They feel that they aren't trusted and their participation is squelched by others. Soon, the team crumbles.

In all of these examples, you, the leader, must step up to the plate. A Harvard Business Review eNewsletter offers some timely advice: You, the leader, must address disagreements and discord in your team so as to prevent low morale, retention problems and loss of productivity. Dig deep to find the root cause of the discord (it is rarely what they are fighting about on the surface). Make sure you do not jump into the discord by taking sides. Set a conflict resolution policy which spells out the ground rules for cooperation. Look for common ground and continue to monitor the situation.

Caring for pets and wowing clients day in and day out consistently is difficult and tiring. Running a business has its own set of challenges. It becomes even more difficult when the people you employ aren't working together toward a common goal. Take the time to look at your culture and see where Work Groups are being utilized and where Hi-commitment or Self-Directed teams can be of benefit.

Once you have established your hi-commitment / self-directed team, take the next step and involve them in the finances of the business. Educating your team through open book management will aid you in keeping your team aware of your vision and where they are positioned in achieving the goals for the business. One example could be file preparation. Medical records can be pulled in advance of the client visit and reviewed by team members. Establishing a checklist of medical services due or information to verify will speed up the process. Imagine the client service your team can deliver when they can greet the pet and be familiar with its medical status, rather than standing there flipping through pages of a chart and asking the pet owner when their pet last received a vaccination. Team members could set up goals to educate owners of senior pets, handing brochures, tracking the trends for senior wellness exams and bloodwork - and all it would start with is a "senior" sticker on the chart. The team can develop the handouts, exam room bulletin boards, Facebook postings and client newsletters. At the end of the month, compare the numbers to other months, what % of income is senior wellness exams and tests. Not only will the business benefit from increased income, the pet will benefit from preventive care.

Deciding on what type of team structure you have should be a proactive decision. Once you decide your structure you must fill the roles with the best qualified applicants. It is like a football team. You have a salary cap. Identify your positions then make sure each player has the support, skill set and training to succeed, then celebrate. It is more than being all about you - it is about belonging to a team that is making a difference in the lives of animals and the people that share their lives with them.


Speaker Information
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Louise S. Dunn
Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting
Greensboro, NC, USA

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