Turn your ineffective group into an impressive team

You're all working hard, but are you working together? You might just be a group of people in the same clinic. Here's how to build a real team
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Jul 01, 2010

If you work at a veterinary practice, you work on a team, right? Wrong. Just because you work with other people doesn't mean you and your co-workers are functioning as a team. (Click here for 8 telltale signs your team is just a group.) I've worked with a lot of veterinary practices, and at almost every one I've had to educate staff members about what teamwork is.

Many teams are really just groups that pay lip service to teamwork. These groups know what teamwork means in spirit, but they don't always know what it means in action or how to make it happen.

The essence of teamwork is giving up your individual goals so you all can move forward as a cohesive unit. This can be scary stuff, especially if there are some so-called team members who aren't participating. But you must change your team's group mentality for the good of your practice, patients, clients, and your own happiness.

The first step is drilling down to the differences between a group and a team. Check out the chart "Telltale signs your team is just a group" in he related links below. Do any of those situations sound familiar? If so, you're most likely working in a group. To be sure, let's take a closer look at the dynamics of a group.

You know it's a group when...

On a team that's merely going through the motions, you'll find receptionists in the front and technicians in the back. Even though these employees work together, they don't necessarily pay any attention to each other. They block out others around them to focus on their own duties. And it's no wonder, because they're probably making each other's jobs more difficult.

All this is problematic because, as veterinary team members, your days are filled with a series of handoffs. These handoffs happen every time a client travels from a receptionist to a technician or a veterinarian to a veterinary assistant and so on. And each handoff is an opportunity to make a mistake. Here's an example:

When a client arrives at the clinic, a receptionist greets her. That receptionist needs to let a technician know the client has arrived. But the receptionist might not get the pet's name right when she talks to the technician. The technician is embarrassed when she incorrectly refers to the pet. At checkout, the technician takes the chart to the front desk and fails to mention that the client needs to schedule a follow-up appointment. These two team members have just created more work for each other, not to mention created a bad experience for the client.

Now, the receptionist or veterinary technician in the above scenario might have a suggestion for ensuring these handoff mistakes don't happen again. But, in a group, neither will share because they're both either uninspired or know their ideas will go unheard. Or maybe they're afraid. In many groups, team members keep quiet because they fear being labeled unsupportive, getting socially ostracized, or dealing with the boss's wrath.

All this leads to distrust. Staff members in groups can't be sure whether their colleagues are working to elevate the team or destroy individuals. An example is a practice that provides solid training then keeps team members from applying the knowledge to their job. This happens because doctors, managers, team members, or all of the above feel threatened when co-workers demonstrate their skills.

Another sign you're working in a group: When conflict happens, no one at your hospital knows how to resolve it. After all, group members can't take their disagreements to a manager, because supervisors put off intervention until after serious damage occurs.

As a result of all this, people in groups keep their heads down. They focus on themselves. And we're back to the root cause of failed teamwork.