How to Build an Intentional, Resilient Work Culture

If someone asks one of your team members, “What kind of day are you going to have today?” what do you think the answer will be? In one practice, it might be, “We’ll see.” In another, the answer is almost always, “We’re going to have a great day.” Why the difference? In a nutshell: default vs deliberate work cultures. In the first response, team members are unsure about how each day will go because their practice culture defaults to the mood of the dentist. In the second, the dentist and team have deliberately created a work culture based on their priorities (values and beliefs) that is sustained with systems and processes.

It starts at the top

The well-known management consultant and thought leader Peter Drucker emphasized that the culture of an organization starts at the top. If the spirit at the top is great, then the organization will be great. And if the organization rots, it rots from the top.

Steven J. Anderson, founder of Total Patient Service Institute and Capstone Dental and author of The Culture of Success: 10 Natural Laws for Creating the Place Where Everybody Wants to Work, applies that

definition to dentistry: “It means that everything in a practice, regardless of ownership or the number of practices, revolves around the dentist because it’s making the dentist productive that makes the business work.”

But shouldn’t dental practices be patient-centered? Delivering evidence-based high-quality dental care is the clear goal of every dental team, but how is that best done effectively? “At the end of the day, functionally, everything revolves around the dentist,” Anderson emphasized.

“Just by virtue of how the business is organized, the dentist has a huge impact on practice culture, and everyone is taking their cues from that.”

Designing processes that ensure dentist effectiveness and provide emotional and financial security for the team creates a deliberate culture that delivers predictable patient care in a positive atmosphere.

Building resilient teams

“We know two of the biggest things that team members want are emotional and financial security,” Anderson said. “And then they want to be listened to; they want to know that their opinion matters. Where does emotional security come from? It comes from working in a culture where you know you’re valued and you’ll be treated with respect. It’s a safe place to be.”

Similar to individual resilience, team resilience requires using intentional strategies to cope with challenges, adversity and stress to successfully achieve goals and objectives and to enhance the ability to face future challenges. Only in a deliberately designed work culture can you have true team resilience. Without it, team members don’t know where they stand, don’t feel safe to speak up when errors occur and feel alone in their stress.

Anderson recommends that every practice develop a culture guide to codify its workplace culture. For example, Anderson said, “timing is a basic fundamental that we have to execute on every day.” He then uses the morning meeting to illustrate how this relates to resiliency: “If we’ve all agreed that we have a meeting every morning for 15 minutes to set the stage for the day, but we can’t totally depend on each other to show up or what time to show up, then we’ve created a culture of unpredictability.” The culture guide should spell out that everyone is expected to show up early and then define what “early” means. “We all want to work in an environment where we can depend on each other,” Anderson said. “And that starts first thing every day.”

Facing adversity

Every practice will face big and small challenges. Setting priorities and organizing processes create a road map for meeting those challenges and overcoming them. W. Edwards Deming, an engineer, statistician and management consultant who has been referred to as the Father of Quality, believed that 94% of success is in a predictable, reliable system that’s implemented consistently. “If you want resiliency,” Anderson said, “then you have to have something you can depend on, so when something doesn’t go as planned (and that happens every day), you can respond and rebound. Absent priorities and processes, you’re on your own.”

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This blog post originally appeared in Best Practice.