What is one of the most challenging issues of a dental practice owner? What raises the most concerns, and causes the most frustration in the day-to-day life of a dentist? I can tell you from my experience of working with hundreds of practices that the answer is usually dental team communication issues.

That's not to say that most practitioners have bad teams. In fact, I would say that most of the clients I work with genuinely love their teams and think of them as family. But that's the thing with families—the people you love the most can also be the source of the most anxiety in your life. As practice leaders, you depend on the people around you because you can't really carry out your vision of providing great dentistry without the support of an aligned and committed team. To be truly successful as a practice, you need to have philosophical buy-in from everyone who represents the practice name.

How do you get everyone on the same page and supporting the same goals with the same sense of purpose? Is there some magic formula for achieving ideal dental team communication and alignment?

Dealing with team issues means dealing with individual people and all their idiosyncrasies, which means there will always be an element of unpredictability when it comes to addressing team issues. Nevertheless, there are specific tools you can use to help you systematize the process of team alignment.

Creating Team Alignment Through Clarity Conversations

Let's examine what we are trying to achieve and that can be summarized in one word: clarity. Just about every issue that arises in team dynamics—or in just about any relationship, for that matter—can be traced back to a lack of clarity. Look into any relationship problem and you will usually find that somewhere along the line, someone was not clear about something.

In improving dental team communication, we can focus on three specific tools and points of clarity:

1. Clarity For Job Expectations

Although it might seem obvious what a front desk person, for instance, needs to do in terms of daily duties, having well-defined and clearly documented expectations for the essential tasks of a role is a bedrock starting point for alignment.

To get clarity for job expectations, we have developed a Role Scorecard for each of the major roles in a practice. This a simple document that outlines the Core Competencies that are required for the role, as well as the Key Outcomes that are expected for anyone performing the role. It's kind of like a next-level job description document, in that it is useful when you are hiring for a role and need to identify key attributes and expectations, and at the same time is a great tool to use with existing team members to document certain “non-negotiables” for what you expect and what the job entails.

2. Clarity For the Big Picture

For a team member to become truly on-board with the vision and priorities of the practice, they need to see beyond their own task-based checklists and understand how their role contributes to the larger goals of the practice.

Getting clarity for the big picture, meanwhile, means taking these objectives that are defined in the scorecard and putting them into the context of how that job fits into the vision and goals of the practice—and for that you need a Value Role description. This is all about getting a team member to see not just the “what” but also the “why” of their role. To use the front desk example again, a job description might list “get patients appointed” as a responsibility. The value role, on the other hand, focuses on how your performance in managing the schedule helps support success in patient acceptance and retention. It's about taking a step back to see the big picture and understanding the implications and rewards of what you do on a larger scale.

3. Clarity For the Future

An emphasis on growth—for the practice and for each person on the team—is what drives great teams to consistently produce exceptional results. Everyone on the team, from the leader on down, should regularly be asking themselves the two words that propel a person through life with purpose: what's next?

You must have a plan. It's easy to fall into a “this is the way we do things” habit and to find comfort in our routines, but continued success means continual growth—for the practice as a whole and for each person on the team. That's why we developed a Growth Conference resource to help guide the development process in a regular, one-on-one way.

What is the team member excelling at? Celebrate it! Where can they find room to grow? Identify it and get specific about what they can do next to continue to grow with the practice. This is a tool to use on a quarterly base to keep the momentum going with each person on the team and keep them excited about their own possibilities as well as the possibilities for the practice.

Implementing Dental Team Communication Tools

So where do you go to find these tools and to get guidance on how to use them effectively? Spear has just released a video course, called “Systematizing Team Management: 3 Tools for Creating Alignment,”. In that course I walk through each of these tools, one by one, section by section, explaining the theory behind each one and how best to implement them with your team.

To preview this Spear Online course and the tools mentioned in this article, please click here.

I believe that improving dental team communication and implementing these tools is one of the most important things a practice leader can do. After all, because of the way a practice works, you don't have a lot of opportunities, as a practitioner, to oversee and guide individual team performance each day. That's why you need to systematize the process as much as possible, so that everyone has absolute clarity for what they need to do, and for what their function is, while you are focusing on providing great clinical care.

Aimee Fletcher, M.A.Ed., is a member of Spear Resident Faculty.