When I took a job as manager, the evidence of my practice's chronic illness was a constant ad in the classifieds seeking new
support team members. This was vexing, considering the healthy team of veterinarians stayed constant and consisted of some
truly excellent doctors. Still, the practice bled out team members on a regular basis.
Our 3½-doctor small animal practice employs a support team of about 16. Today, six are licensed technicians, but we used to
have a hard time keeping more than two on the team. My first job: Find out why. Here's the story of how I cured our staff
infection and how the our team worked together to build a healthy, nontoxic practice.
Step 1: Diagnose your team dynamic
It turned out that most turnover was happening as the result of a few toxic long-term employees. Here are the signs your team
can watch for to identify toxic team members:
> Employees who are obstinate and feel they're above it all.
> Co-workers who don't pull their weight.
If you notice these characteristics in a team member, it's appropriate to respectfully approach your manager in private. And
managers have a duty to listen.
If you're the manager, don't assume your team members are being dramatic. Investigate by spending some time around the practice
observing interactions between team members. If you're in tune with your team members, you'll see where the rift is occurring
A word of caution: If you're the person on the team who's constantly complaining about how others aren't doing a good-enough
job or don't do their part, you could be the bad apple. Team players will go to great lengths to avoid complaining about others.
When they finally do, they're usually polite and reserved—or they've reached the point where they break down in tears. Malcontents
want to talk about what's bothering them every day, and they won't be shy approaching the manager with their frequent complaints.
Step 2: Purge the toxic team members
Once our team had isolated the problem areas, I allowed those folks liberation from our practice so they could find a new
place to work that would make them happier. I found when I presented it this way to employees, often they would admit they were unhappy, and a couple of them actually
thanked me for pointing it out.
Anybody who's stirring up trouble and is driving others away isn't happy with the job. These team members need to find jobs
that make them happy. You'll find as soon as you let the bullies go, the remaining team members will suddenly develop a spring
in their step that wasn't there before.
Once you've culled the toxins, you can look to your team to ensure reinfection doesn't occur. I recommend periodically interviewing
team members about how certain folks are doing. And during annual reviews, I ask the doctors who they like to work with the
best, and I ask the team members for their favorite and least favorite people to work with. If certain team members come up
in the "least favorite" category a lot, then I do further investigation to figure out firsthand how I think they're doing.
Whether you're the team member with the concern or the person who needs to improve, your next step is to consider the path
to improvement. You may be asked to offer guidance or training to someone who's floundering. And you should also be prepared
to receive feedback for areas you can improve.
The tough call, for both managers and team members, is accepting when it's time to say goodbye to a nice person who can't
do the job. I've had to let nice people who just couldn't cut the mustard go. My team members are sad to see a nice person
go, but they are also understanding that this job is not for everybody. They also don't want to work twice as hard to pick
up slack for somebody who's never going to be able to do the work.