When I first began my journey in building an engaged dental team that I wanted to lead, I learned an extremely important lesson early on. At first, I started with what I knew – what I had seen so many times before. Having worked in many dental offices prior to owning my own, I saw owners leading from the top. Through the implementation of reactionary policies, these leaders pushed from the top to guide the behaviors of their employees. As a result of seeing this in action, I thought leading from above was the answer. I assumed it was just “how it was done.” Never have I been so wrong. What I learned, almost immediately, was that we were all in the trenches together. People want to be led, not managed. They want to feel valued and appreciated. The success or failure of the office and the team results from our collective efforts. Only through working together to intentionally build a focused and engaged team were we able to succeed. The first thing I had to do was to get off of my high horse and jump into the trenches with my team. The view, as I would find out, is much clearer from the bottom of the ladder.
As I mentioned before, I was indoctrinated into the business side of dentistry through observing owners at the multiple practices where I was an associate dentist throughout the first five years of my career. While styles varied, they all had one thing in common. The owner sat at the top of the organizational hierarchy pushing the staff from the top. This leadership is prevalent throughout the dental profession, and – unfortunately – throughout the general business community as well. Employees are meant to feel subordinate in every way to those in the leadership positions above them so they “know their place,” and all that matters is that the employees “get the job done.” When an owner sits at the top of the business ladder screaming below to their team, “Climb! Climb faster!,” I argue that not only do they not see the results that they want, but they see diminishing returns for their misguided efforts. Now, I am not advocating that organizations be run without a hierarchy of leadership. A leadership hierarchy is essential in building and scaling a business. Rather, I have experienced that success is achieved when leaders intentionally craft a team-first culture. Everyone must work together, side-by-side, if an organization is going to fulfill its potential. There are several steps that you can take to start moving your team in this transformational direction:
- Keep communication flowing in both directions: Implementing a constant cadence of communication will ensure that all members of the team have an active role in the operations of the business. While we will never get 100 percent of our teams to agree on any decision that is made, buy-in to the final decision is increased when everyone feels seen and heard.
- Identify the individual communication styles of your team members: Members of your team communicate differently and prefer to be communicated to in different ways. When leaders and team members alike are aware of the makeup of the communication preferences in their team, efficiency and ease of communication increases. This is essential to growing and scaling your team and your practice.
- Keep an open-door policy that welcomes everyone: If you make it clear in word and deed that anyone can come talk to you – about anything – because you’re all in this together, they will. This level of vulnerability based trust is essential in building teams.
- Hire thoughtfully: It’s easy to make a hiring error, but the good news is that once your team culture is established and flourishing, the team will either bring the person around to your ways of doing things, or the person will realize they are not a good fit and will leave on their own.
- Be open with your team about the health of the business: Many of us aren’t entirely comfortable with sharing this kind of information with team members, but I encourage leaders to keep their teams updated on the overall financial picture of the office. I always strive to be open with my team, because it increases their sense of ownership, and it’s key in helping them understand the role they play in the success of the business.
- Set shared and individual goals and empower your team: Do not fall into the trap of becoming a cog culture that values scripted robots over human performance. Free up your team members to find solutions and solve problems. Empowered employees who are permitted to own their position will be the fuel that grows your practice.
- Encourage people to grow in their roles: When people are engaged and excited about what they are doing, they’re likely to want to take on more responsibilities. In order to experience true growth, you need to be willing to give people not only the opportunity, but also the time it takes to be successful.
- Listen to the team and be willing to try out their suggestions: If you’re a top-down kind of leader stuck in the idea that your way of doing things is always going to be the best way, this won’t come naturally – but if you want to build a collaborative culture in which every person can bring their best to the shared goal of growth, you’ve got to be open to letting them offer up ideas and acting on them.
Ultimately, leaders need to take intentional steps to craft and create a culture of teamwork and collaboration in order to grow and scale their practices. I challenge you to take meaningful steps to start this process today.
More details on the transformational power of culture that I experienced in my practice can be found in my newly released book, Lead from the Bottom: Successfully Scaling Your Business as an Owner by Cultivating a Team-First Culture. In this book, I am excited to take you on my journey through the ups and downs of using a team-first approach to creating an organizational culture that not only transformed my business and my team, but also translated into happy patients that led to over 50 percent growth year over year. This growth allowed me to move from my “start-up space” to a 5600-square-foot office of my dreams in an astonishing five-year time frame. Join me as I take you on a journey to lead from the bottom and create an engaged team that will climb the ladder of success with you. You can purchase the book at store. drkylebogan.com, and you can receive 15 percent off with the coupon code TEAMFIRST.