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Clinical Systems Professional Issues

Practice leader: how do you build a good team?

This summary is based on the article published in Dental Economics: Leading the practice team to success (August 2013)


Many excellent dentists struggle with their responsibilities as leaders, especially in the area of team management.

Contending with reality

The team is usually made up of front desk coordinators who usually have no formal training and of dental assistants and hygienists who have clinical training, but typically have no training in the practice management aspects of their jobs. Even when dentists hire office managers, they may lack formal training or experience relevant to dental practice operations.

This is the reality for most dental practices, and it will not change. In other words, dentists are being unrealistic if they think they should be able to hire their way to an excellent practice team.

Excellent practice teams are built, not hired. As practice leader, the dentist, who also probably lacks business education, must create the right conditions for building an effective team. This will include not merely specialized training for team members, but also practice systems designed so that staff can readily operate them with maximum efficiency.

Simple and replicable systems

When practice management and marketing systems are created — or re-created, which should occur every three to five years — they should consist of a results-driven series of steps that are simple and repeatable.

“Simple” means readily understandable by any staff member who will be expected to follow the steps. It must also be simple in terms of grasping what targets must be reached on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Simple systems enable team members to self-monitor their performance, and provide dentists and office managers with feedback that pinpoints where further training will be valuable.

“Repeatable” means having full documentation of all step-by-step systems used in the practice. This documentation assures that practice systems, as designed and refined to achieve maximum results, can be used the right way every time. When team members fill in for someone else on an unfamiliar system, its inherent repeatability makes it easy for them to follow correctly. Repeatable systems enable new team members to quickly duplicate the successful performance of their predecessors.

Dental practices must find ways to maintain continuing excellence, not to mention production, profitability, and income, regardless of staff changes, which are inevitable.

Strategies to improve your team performance

  • Set 24 specific, measurable performance targets and assign primary responsibility for each one to the dentist or staff members.
  • Create and implement documented step-by-step practice systems for the express purpose of reaching those targets.
  • Train (and cross-train) staff members on the systems, using scripts that not only guide their every step but also motivate patients and create value in their minds for the doctor and the practice.

Beyond these essentials, there are leadership skills that practice owners must develop if they are to build excellent teams and thriving practices. Among the most important are:

  • Doctors need to model the behavior they expect from the team.
  • Show that money is not the practice’s primary concern.
  • Leaders need to be consistently positive and upbeat.
  • True leaders genuinely care about their teams.


This content was reproduced with permission.

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