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Enhancing teamwork

Oct. 1, 2004
With the insight I obtained from the Career Assessment Survey results that were published in the July issue of RDH, dental hygienists felt that teamwork is an issue that needs to be improved upon in their work environment.

by Christine Hovliaras-Delozier

With the insight I obtained from the Career Assessment Survey results that were published in the July issue of RDH, dental hygienists felt that teamwork is an issue that needs to be improved upon in their work environment. Eighty-seven percent of dental hygienists who responded to the survey worked in a dental office.

All hygienists, especially those who work in a dental office, should ask themselves if they work in collaboration with their employer and coworkers to achieve the goals of the office. If yes, great! However, reflect upon two things. First, why do you work well together as a team? Secondly, are you effective as a team at accomplishing tasks of importance for the office? This is worth thinking about in order to make your workday positive, accomplishing daily tasks, meeting appointment timelines, and making your patients feel important, comfortable and satisfied at their appointments.

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On the other hand, if your dental office is not working as a team, ask yourself why. List the reasons on a piece of paper. Then decide if your office environment can be improved to enhance teamwork. This could be difficult if the relationships you have tried to establish are not reinforced by a collaborative effort through open communication and commitment. Your employer plays the lead role in this task through establishing a vision/mission statement for the office, having all employees understand the vision and mission, and the importance of the role that each staff member plays to accomplish the mission statement.

What is a team and what are the qualities of an effective team?

A team is defined as two or more individuals who work together to accomplish a task or performance and whose expertise is required for the attainment of the team goal or the objective and held mutually accountable. Teamwork is the collaborative effort by members of the team to achieve a common goal.1

Does your office have a vision and mission statement?

Think about how important it is to have vision. You must know where you are going in order to determine the steps necessary to achieve success within your office. As Stephen Covey stated in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, "Begin with the end in mind."2 The vision will provide the direction your office wants to achieve for the future. The mission statement will help to define the way in which the direction will be achieved through objectives and strategies.

There are several important characteristics of an effective team:

• Team members understand the office vision and mission statement and may help to develop it during a team meeting.
• Team members have a common identity.
• Team members have common goals and objectives.
• Team members share common leadership.
• Team members share successes and failures.
• Team members cooperate and collaborate.
• Team members have roles.
• Team members work to make decisions effectively.
• Teams are made up of diverse people.3

An effective team works in an environment of mutual respect, trust, and honesty. Team members will need to understand the roles of one another in order to work together to achieve the designated objectives needed to accomplish their goals.

There are four traits that characterize effective teams:

• Commitment to the team - Commitment is recognized when one is a valued member who accomplishes tasks and has developed empowerment as being a part of the team.

• Decisions made by mutual consent of team members - Team members can assist in resolving conflicts by mutually working together to reach consensus. Team members can share opinions to help resolve problems in order to satisfy all members.

• A process defined for managing conflict and creativity - Any team will encounter conflict throughout the duration of the team's existence. Conflict can be resolved through creativity and discussion by the team members.

• A process defined for effective decision-making procedures - When a process is defined for effective discussion and decision-making, the team can work together to accomplish their tasks and objectives to achieve their office goals.3

Teams can benefit dental offices by increasing productivity, increasing patient satisfaction, increasing employee morale, and reducing overhead. Productivity can be improved through enhanced work methods and procedures that improve efficiency, rate of output, and quality of service to the patients. Effective teams can help to increase patient satisfaction by being on time, being patient and understanding of the patients' needs, having adequate time to complete preventative procedures, and giving product recommendations.

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Team members can help support creativity, satisfaction, and a rewarding work environment through positive attitudes, an open relationship with the employer and other team members, commitment to making a positive difference in treating patients, and effective resolution of conflict to accomplish tasks efficiently. Employee turnover will be reduced if team members are satisfied in their dental office environment.

If overhead is reduced, there should be an increase in the bottom line. Many tasks assigned to individual staff members may be assigned to the team, thereby decreasing overhead. Teams can be a benefit to individuals working in the dental office by making work less stressful, sharing responsibility, enhancing the self-worth of team members, sharing rewards and recognition, influencing one another, and experiencing a sense of accomplishment. 3

In closing, a few final thoughts to consider in enhancing your role as a team player in the dental office:

Have respect for your position in the dental hygiene profession.
* Become a member of your professional association, the American Dental Hygienists' Association.
* Understand the importance of your role and responsibilities in the dental office.
* Conduct your responsibilities efficiently and effectively.
* Be dependable.
* Respect your employer, coworkers, and patients.
* Have a positive attitude, which will enhance your relationships at work and make your day more pleasant and enjoyable.

1 American Heritage Dictionary online, 2004.
2 Covey, Stephen. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. New York, Free Press, 1989, 145-150.
3 Spiegel, Jerry and Cresencio, Torres. Manager's Official Guide to Team Working. California, Pfeiffer & Company, 1994, 5-6, 7-8, 10-12.
4 Ludden, LaVerne, and Tom Capozzoli. Supervisor Savvy. Indiana, Jist Publishing, 1994, 191-194.

Christine Hovliaras-Delozier, RDH, MBA is president of Professioanl Savvy, LLC, which is based in Flanders, N.J. Chris is an oral care consultant who works with various companies in clinical trails, product development, professional marketing/relations programs and materials, professional sales, and continuing education symposiums. She has written articles for several dental hygiene publications and works with professional organizations in presenting continuing education coursed and other projects. She can be reached at [email protected].