Great dental teams start with a great vision

By Dr. Robert Maguire

Why is it that some dental practices have their team members for a long time and others have trouble keeping them? Why is it that the dental practices with long-time employees appear to be the ones that are the most productive, most stable, and happy? Is it luck or some hidden secret? The answer is straightforward; it starts with the dentist having a clear vision of how he or she wants to practice and also knowing the types of people he or she wants to work with. 

When the dentist clearly knows what he or she is trying to accomplish and with whom, he or she is able to share this vision, the joys, the desires, and the expectations with the team. I call the result of this “contagious clarity.” In these types of practices, the team members communicate well with one another. They are collaborative, solve problems together, work out their conflicts, are productive, and, most importantly, they have fun. Let me illustrate this with an example.

A few weeks ago, I received a gift in a plain white box from a friend. It was called a “mystery jigsaw puzzle” and came with nothing more than the puzzle pieces, no picture of the final result, just the puzzle pieces inside a Ziplock bag. After laying out the pieces, I sorted them and easily began to assemble multiple groups of four to five pieces. However, from here, I agonized trying to figure out how all these small groups of pieces all fit together to complete the big picture. Without having a picture of the end result, the process took me three times longer to finish. I was extremely frustrated, vowing to never work on another “pictureless puzzle” again.

Like putting together the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, dental practices and dental teams are more efficient, more productive, and have more fun when they have a vision of the final result. A clear picture of the desired outcome arises when the dentist effectively communicates his or her vision or dream with the team. It might include things like practicing comprehensive patient-centered care, the happiness and productivity that come from having a cohesive and collaborative team, detailed protocols for all aspects of the practice, planned budgets, daily targets, or monthly goals.

Another way to think about the importance of having a vision is think of it like planning a trip or a vacation. First, you decide on your destination. Next, you decide how you will get there and whom you will invite to join you. Similar to planning a vacation, having a clear vision is the first step to having a great team. Along with that planning, a clear vision for a great team has other important parts.

Along with a commitment to the vision, dentist leaders need to commit themselves to excellence is all that they say and all that they do. This attribute of excellence encompasses all areas of the practice, from clear job descriptions, to well defined systems and policies. Making the expectations clear for all aspects of the practice, along with defining the values that everyone shares, will almost guarantee success.

Next, humility and integrity are other personality traits that a dentist must display while “casting the vision.” When dentists demonstrate these attributes, they often “walk the talk.” They are transparent, easily approachable, have a servant heart, and want the best for their teams and their patients. Being cognizant of these qualities breathes depth into the dentist’s vision as it includes both the desired result along with the dentist’s self-awareness of his or her behavior.

Dentists who are self-aware display openness and ask their team members for their candid feedback:

  • What am I doing in the practice that is helpful?
  • What am I doing that is not helpful?
  • What could I do to better interact with you?

Additionally, a dentist leader with a clear vision will provide a learning environment for his or her team. When procedural problems arise, and they will, these teams search for solutions rather than point fingers or blame others. A great dentist leader allows team members to make mistakes and then collaboratively looks for remedies to help them succeed in the future. When interpersonal conflicts arise, a great dentist leader has systems in place to work through them in a systematic and constructive manner, one that preserves self-esteem and keeps their relationships intact.

Lastly, with a clear vision, the dentist becomes a leader who is trustworthy and trusts his team to do their jobs. He or she understands the needs of each individual team member, and gives them the tools and support they need to succeed. Listening, asking questions, always being approachable, are some of the qualities of an excellent leader.

Want to have a great practice? Do all you can to craft your vision and the results you want to accomplish. Be clear on the values that are important to you, perhaps things like timeliness, cleanliness, or attention to detail. Next, find individuals who share those same values, help them succeed, strive for excellence, do your best, and have fun together. Having a clear vision is the best way for you and your team to start having more joy, more fulfillment, and more financial success in your lives and in your practice. You might ask, “What is fulfillment?” My answer is, “Doing the dentistry you love, with a team you love, and with the patients you love.”

If you want to have a great team and a great dental practice, simply remember that great dental teams start with a great vision.

Dr. Robert M. Maguire is a dentist, proven leader, coach, consultant, and communication expert who offers consulting services to dentists and their teams around the country. With more than 30 years of experience in his very successful solo fee-for-service private practice, in combination with his communication training, Dr. Maguire understands that practice success involves a mix of technical, managerial, and communication excellence. He calls it “The Hands, The Head, and The Heart Philosophy.” Learn more about him here.