“Dental team member needed: MUST be a team player.”
That is possibly one of the most overused and under-defined statements you might see in a job posting for a new hire in a dental practice. And what candidate will enter an interview with the thought that they are not really a team player? “Teamwork? Nah, not really for me!” or “I want to join this team, but I will do things my way, and I don’t really like learning anything new.” Perhaps the problem is that the words “team player” are not clearly defined by employers or team members. There are any number of metaphors that we can draw to help explain what the concept is, the most obvious being a sports team: different positions; different responsibilities; each is critical to achieve highest functionality; if one person is missing, the whole game suffers; you get the idea.
As I work with teams, I find that an exercise that defines “Teamwork” is helpful. Even teams that “get along” can benefit and improve their interaction with their teammates. An exercise will help to strengthen a cohesive team as well as define the concept for new team members. It can be a great way to get small annoyances aired in a nonthreatening, healthy way.
I have adapted an exercise using a concept developed by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. Mr. Collins worked with a team of graduate students to determine how great companies got to be so “great.” They spent years defining “good” and “great”, and interviewing the employees and the leaders in these companies. Eventually, they boiled the approach down to “get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, the right people in the right seats, and THEN decide where the bus is going.” For this exercise, which can easily be done in a team meeting, allow about an hour and use a whiteboard or a large piece of poster board – something that you can leave up for everyone to see and revisit in a future meeting.
Break into two or three groups and answer the following three questions:
1. What characteristics or traits does this person have?
2. What things would you hear them say/see them do?
3. What would this person never say/do?
Be sure to consider only your own position and job description – this is not an exercise to point fingers! Take about 15 minutes to brainstorm in groups, and then combine answers on the whiteboard – again this is brainstorming – no wrong answers!
The final stage of this exercise is to tie this back to each team member individually: each person on the team should make a commitment. When you are an employee in a business you are stating that you are the “right person on the bus.” You are making a commitment to be and do all of the things that were written on the whiteboard. Each individual must ask themselves if they are on the right bus. Sometimes, a doctor will have to ask a team member if they are on the right bus, or if they are in the right seat on the bus.
The last question to ask is: “What will I do to promote teamwork in this practice?” Title this new section Promises to my Teammates, because this is a commitment you are all voicing to each other, including the doctor. Write your name next to your promise. Post this list of promises where the entire team can see. Revisit it often. Ask your teammates how you are doing. This last piece of the puzzle can be quite powerful.
The effect of defining what Teamwork is can generate excitement and renewed commitment in a team. It can promote unity among team members, and really help a new member know how they can help their teammates. Team members have told me that they feel heard and were able to communicate their needs in a positive, constructive way. Teammates begin to build trust that they can work well together. This exercise also potentially gives the doctor and the employee a topic of discussion during Performance Reviews.
The benefits of defining Teamwork within a team are exponential, and will positively affect every aspect of a business. It can lead to a team functioning at its highest level, and when teams accomplish this, they are better able to engage and prepare for each day, meeting and patient. Lines of communication can be opened, and individual needs are met more successfully. Moving forward, they can trust that they can continue to refine systems in a constructive manner. Goals can be activated, accomplished and celebrated together. Emotional investments in the success of the practice and each other are developed.
We all want to believe that we are team players, but until the term is defined and communicated, we have nothing to measure against. It can mean different things to different people. I am sure we have all worked in situations where we would not have considered a co-worker to be a team player, but perhaps they thought differently. But with an exercise such as the one I described, everyone can get on the same page and work together to achieve success.