Mediating differences between staff can create a more teamwork-focused practice

April 15, 2008

Realizing that your office has a teamwork problem is a large step. Finding the answer to why this problem exists is the first step on a very long trip. But, have courage-you are not alone. It is a problem we all have.

Realizing that your office has a teamwork problem is a large step. Finding the answer to why this problem exists is the first step on a very long trip. But, have courage-you are not alone. It is a problem we all have. Lombardi's quote offers the road map to answering why offices have a problem with teamwork.

We ensure that our offices are staffed with strong, capable, and independent employees. Look at the technical staff in your office. They perform an intricate routine independently throughout the day-answering phone calls from patients and other physician offices, and performing eye exams within the parameters of the office and their scope of practice. They have the ability to evaluate a situation and change the "plan" that was originally determined for that patient. That occurs for each technician you have.

We do it all the time. Someone makes a good decision and that staff member is applauded for his or her triage. But was it just the technician that made a great call? Do you expect your office staff to perform as team members? When was the last time anyone in your office applauded a team of people for acting as one, and everyone involved in getting a task done was lauded? Probably not very often.

Let's go back to Mrs. Smith. She had moved her appointment up 2 weeks because the floaters were making her nervous. When the telephone staff member heard floaters, the staffer gave Mrs. Smith an appointment that day.

The phone staffer made a note so the technician knew there was a change in appointment type. The technician knew that Mrs. Smith was not here for a pressure check, but for decreased vision with floaters. And the technician did the appropriate exam as dictated by office protocol. But the technician was the only one acknowledged.

Teamwork starts at the top. Unfortunately, if you have an office that doesn't work as a team, it may be because management and, sad to say, the doctors don't promote it as much as we think we do. It has to go beyond words of praise. Teamwork has to be demonstrated by actions and deeds as well.

I am often approached by practices seeking continuing education. After discussing the office dynamics, flow, and staffing, the following statement is made time after time: "My office has a problem with teamwork. Do you have any classes to help with that?" And so their journey begins.

When you are educating your staff, what you are really saying is, "I need technician training." When I ask if the front desk, business office, and telephone center staff will be invited, I am usually told that just the technicians need the credits. Whoa-what a telling sentence. If we want to play with words, what you might be saying to the rest of your staff is, "It's just the technicians that get the credit."

If you were to ask those left-out office members what they thought about not being included, the staffers would tell you they didn't like being excluded. Even if the courses don't mean that much to his or her job. How can I be so sure? Because when I go to other offices I ask the staff. It does mean something to his or her job and it means the world to your practice.