No more front vs. back

Aug 01, 1998

Is there a problem in your practice?
Perhaps you've experienced it—the knot in the pit of your stomach on Monday morning as you drive toward the practice. You love working with animals and you like the veterinarians and clients. So what's the problem? You're dreading spending another day in the emotional atmosphere created by the tension between people who work "in the front" and those who work "in the back."

Signs and solutions If you look at a front vs. back split as a medical case, the conflict is really a symptom of something bigger. And, as you know, just treating the symptom may not fix the problem. Not sure what's causing the split in your practice? To identify the most common problems—and solutions—I talked to a dozen managers across the country. They say a front-back split typically arises when:

  • Team members don't understand or appreciate each other's contributions. Rigid roles and fuzzy job descriptions cause confusion about each group's responsibilities. One solution: Cross-train team members on client relations, computer use, telephone courtesy, client education, client check-in, animal restraint, filling prescriptions, cleaning up accidents, and so on. Cross training illustrates the scope of each person's responsibilities and helps build appreciation for every team member's contributions.
  • Team members feel insecure. Team members need to know where they stand with their supervisors and understand their value to the practice. If you wish you had more feedback, let your manager know. If you're a supervisor, make sure the people who work for you know how they're doing and what you expect. Frequent reviews are a good first step, but don't stop there. Think of yourself as a coach and a mentor, and help your team members grow professionally.

Haven't received enough management training? Ask to attend a management seminar, or ask the doctor to recommend a book that could give you confidence and ideas. (For more see "Team management: Step up to the challenge")

Plan a team training session
  • Lack of training. Front- and back-office team members can help each other tremendously—if they know how. For example, during emergency phone calls, receptionists can help prepare the technical staff by asking clients specific questions about their pets. On the flip side, technicians can help take the load off the front desk by learning how to review an estimate with a pet owner.

To encourage such mutual assistance, hold regular training sessions on hospital procedures and include the entire team, even if the training is primarily technical or administrative. If you're an experienced team member, offer to lead the first session. (See the margin text at for one idea.) And if each session leader summarizes his or her presentation and the team discussion in writing, you can collect those pages into a training manual for new team members.

Also consider outside training, especially seminars that discuss team building and communication skills.

  • Lack of direct communication. When hospital team members feel uncomfortable approaching each other or a practice supervisor about problems, the result is usually gossip. Combat this problem by establishing guidelines for resolving conflicts and outlining consequences for not sticking to them. For example, your policy may state that if one team member has a problem with another one, he or she may discuss the issue only with that person or a practice manager.

If you're a team leader and you discover that people are gossiping, call a spontaneous meeting with the people involved to resolve the issue. (For more on handling gossip, see page 13 in the June/July issue of Firstline.)