5 Strategies to Build a Cohesive Dental Team

Team dynamics can make or break a dental practice. Use these five easy strategies to help your team thrive!

Print & Go GuidanceBy Paige Anderson, CRDH

Team dynamics can make or break a dental practice. When each team member trusts their coworkers to have their back during a challenging day, they’ll feel less stressed and be able to focus on delivering compassionate care to every patient. Most importantly, a cohesive team means better employee retention. Patients can become deeply attached to your team when they have great experiences with the same familiar faces year after year. With a cohesive team that supports each other in delivering exceptional care, your patients will stay with you and recommend your team to their friends and loved ones.

Let's review five easy ways to improve connections between your team members so your practice can thrive.

1. Morning Huddles

To make the most out of a morning huddle, each team member should get an opportunity to alert the rest of the group to challenges on their schedule.

Maybe they have a patient who uses a walker and will need extra time to reach and exit the operatory. Knowing this might put them behind schedule, team members can make themselves available to flip the operatory while the patient is being helped to the front desk.

It’s also a chance to share celebrations. Is a patient coming for the final seat on their full mouth rehab tomorrow? Be sure there’s a congratulations card waiting for them!

The morning huddle allows you to help everyone work as a unit and stay mindful of each other’s needs. This will help everything flow, give your patients the best possible experience, and build goodwill between team members.

WHAT NOT TO DO: The morning huddle is not the time for a general airing of grievances, and it’s not the best time to troubleshoot deep or complex issues. If there’s a quick fix that needs attention (e.g., “Quick reminder to check the patient bathroom for toilet paper at least once around lunchtime.”), that’s fine. But don’t let it become a tit-for-tat blame session. Schedule separate opportunities to work out those kinds of issues.

2. Consistent Systems

Consistent, predictable systems take out the guesswork and keep everyone working on the same page.

Systems should be simple, efficient, and easy to follow long term. Systems are especially important in sterilization and restocking, two back-of-house areas where friction starts.

Established routines decrease frustrations about uneven workloads because everyone follows the same steps to keep things running smoothly. And if they’re not, it’s easy to identify a specific area to improve.

Predictability also means your team spends less mental energy thinking about each step that needs to be done because it becomes muscle memory after a while. That will help them do their jobs more efficiently and prevent errors like the autoclave not being tested or maintained on time.

WHAT NOT TO DO: Being too rigid about the routine means you’ll miss out on adjustments that could make things even better. Consistent systems are great if you allow them to adapt and evolve.

3. Open Communication

Each team member should have access to a written statement of your philosophy of care and mission as a practice. This will start new team members on the right foot and give established staff a touchstone to keep them focused on your highest values as healthcare providers.

Other than the morning huddle, make time to check in with your team regularly. Schedule a standing practice-wide meeting at least once every month. Your team might also benefit from a focused, quick monthly meeting within each department, too.

Private quarterly chats with each team member will allow you to praise great performance and nip toxic behaviors in the bud.

Listen objectively to concerns about what’s not going smoothly. Try to work as a group to find solutions that work for everyone.

WHAT NOT TO DO: Try to avoid scheduling meetings only when things are going wrong. If open communication is always a negative experience, your team will dread it rather than see it as an opportunity to connect. Check in with staff when things are going well, too!

4. Grow Together

Offer your team opportunities to expand or deepen their practice as a group. That could mean attending dental conferences or CE classes together or scheduling regular lunch-and-learns.

Those monthly staff meetings are also a great time to allow each team member to share insights. Did one of your hygienists devise a great way to help a patient cope with dental phobia? Has one of your assistants read an interesting article about a new approach to tooth replacement?

Growing and learning together will help foster a shared sense of enthusiasm that will keep the team energized and excited about their work.

WHAT NOT TO DO: Don’t make it a competition, which can build resentment. Instead, approach continuous learning as a cooperative activity that helps everyone deliver better experiences to your patients, which is the most important thing!

5. Give Your Team a Chance to Socialize

If two team members have a gap in their schedule simultaneously, let them chat (at a reasonable volume) while they work on restocking the supply closet.

Try not to micromanage every moment in the break room. When your team feels comfortable taking a breather and connecting with each other between patients, it can build a much-needed release valve that will improve connection and prevent disagreements from festering.

Organize social events together. Just be sure to make them something your team actually wants to do so it doesn’t feel like a chore that’s cutting into their free time.

For example, you could take your team to an escape room and divide the departments evenly among the groups so that your concierge, assistants, hygienists, and dentists all get a chance to connect and have fun together.

WHAT NOT TO DO: People naturally bond more closely with a few close friends at work. But try not to let cliques team up against each other. For example, don’t let an “assistants vs. hygienists” dynamic build-up. Have different departments collaborate on specific tasks when possible, and acknowledge great inter-department cooperation when you see it!

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AUTHOR: Paige Anderson is a certified registered dental hygienist with eight years of clinical experience and an English degree. She blends her two areas of expertise to create resources for dental providers so they can change lives by giving their patients the highest possible standard of care.

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