BY Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA
One of the most interesting aspects of people is that we are all different. Our likes and dislikes clearly demonstrate this truth. Some of us have an affinity for dentistry while other people avoid the dental office like a plague, often showing up at the dental office only when they are in severe pain. They will announce unceremoniously that they hate dentists. Although it would seem that these patients think this is a revelation, we in dentistry are accustomed to this view of our chosen profession. Fortunately, we have developed thick hides.
Like the general population, workers in dental offices are also different from one another. One major difference is that teams now span four generations. Although this variety of backgrounds can be a fertile spawning ground for creative ideas, too often it is the battleground for contention and disharmony. With such a melting pot and the naturally inherent differences in people, we often experience trouble in paradise within our dental offices.
Other articles by Garlough
- Questions for the Generations: All generations of employees need to participate in discovery process
- Understanding Millennials: They will dominate dental workforce soon
- Grappling with Generation X: Appreciate the dissenting viewpoints
Last month, Crafting Connections began the process of taking the four generations in the workplace through the "discovery cycle." The first step is to ask questions, and the key question was addressed last month. That question was, "Why are we here?" When the team explores and answers this question, a strong mission statement is developed providing the navigational tool for synergy within the office. Yet, we need to do more. By asking further questions not only will we tap into the team's mission statement, but we also uncover each team member's personal mission statement along with their unique talents.
Dentists and office managers can quickly destroy a team's efforts by not helping the team members understand or define their roles. Roles can be expanded and enhanced if the office leaders demonstrate a genuine interest and diligence in uncovering each individual team member's hidden abilities, interests, and skills. How do they do that? One way is by the questions they ask.
Have you ever been asked what you need in order to contribute to the team? Do you need more time, skills, or resources to enable you to elevate your contribution? Is there collaboration on your team, and how might you collaborate with other team members? What are you best suited to do? Are you flexible to learn new skills and adopt new techniques when necessary? Are you proficient to lead the effort, or are you better suited to implement the effort?
Although you may have a job description, those who can function in a variety of roles offer the office more flexibility. In addition, it builds appreciation of others' roles. The hygienist who can "pinch hit"1 when short-staffed or when another team member is occupied will ease the pressure on everyone. The willingness to assist the dentist if you are available and the assistant is busy with another duty goes a long way in building a team. Even if you rarely help in this manner and definitely are not graceful or proactive about what tools the dentist requires, the effort will be recognized. Do you help out in the sterilization center, take impressions, and do preliminary exams for emergency patients whenever possible? Perhaps the business staff is occupied and you can help by answering the phone or even booking an appointment. The likelihood of being proficient at this task is lessened because it is not your job, and in an optimally functioning office you will not be called upon to perform these tasks often. However, being a team player builds collaboration and creates an atmosphere of respect.
Experts Carolyn A. Martin, PhD, and Bruce Tulgan recognize the challenges of multigenerational workforces and suggest that a good exercise to optimize the uniqueness of each individual is to ask each team member to write his or her answers to the questions in Table 1.
The outcome of this exercise often results in a partnership, whereby one team member helps another team member with the stated objective. In addition, the office can look to outside experts to elevate the team member and also the practice. The benefit of having specific resources and a concrete plan for improvement is empowering for everyone.
It is easy to see why this exercise binds a team together when we consider the characteristics of each generation. For Traditionalists, the people that they work with are what give meaning to their jobs. The baby boomers want respect for their contributions. Generation Xers are always on the lookout to learn new skills, and Millennials consider their coworkers to be a wealth of knowledge. This one simple exercise, if done on a yearly basis, offers everyone the opportunity to grow, connect, and unite to become a stronger team, helping to bridge the differences of the generations.
Questions are important to span the generation gap, but they are not enough. Next month, we will explore the "discovery skill"2 of observation, which not only enhances our learning, but helps us dissect behavioral differences and similarities of the different age groups in our offices today. This look at our team leads to a synergy and cohesion that can offset the negative vibes we often feel from fearful patients visiting the dental office. The result is an elevation of comfort and engagement for everyone! RDH
|Table 1: Exercise for Promoting Uniqueness|
• What skills, knowledge, talents, or experience do you have to enhance the team?
• What one area do you want to improve upon in the next six months?
• How can team members help with coaching, training, or mentoring? What other resources outside the team might be available?
Now, ask the team to listen carefully to one team member's answer to the first question and offer feedback on the following:
• Specific examples of how this team member has offered his or her talents and skills to improve the team
• What other contribution has this person made that has helped the team achieve its missions and goals?
Stay focused on this team member as everyone offers constructive feedback on the other two questions. Offer ideas on how each team member or the office can assist the worker on achieving his or her goals. Finally, repeat this process until all the team members have had a chance to garner the benefits of this collaborative effort.
1. Martin CA, Tulgan B. Managing the Generation Mix. ISBN: 0-87425-941-X. HRD Press Inc. 2006.
2. Dyer J, Gregersen H, Christensen CM. The Innovator's DNA. ISBN: 978142213481. Barnes & Noble. 2011.
Dorothy Garlough, RDH, MPA, is an innovation architect, facilitating strategy sessions and forums to orchestrate change in both the dental and corporate worlds. As an international speaker and writer, Dorothy trains others to broaden their skill-set to include creativity, collaborative innovation and forward thinking. She recognizes that engagement is the outcome when the mechanisms are put in place to drive new innovations. Connect with her at [email protected] .