Transform Your Dental Team into a 'We Team'

Creating harmony throughout a dental team is often the difference between a thriving practice and one that battles dysfunction. We spoke with practice culture specialist Judy Kay about teamwork in the office.

From the first moment you speak with Judy Kay Mausolf, it's easy to see why she's one of the top dental management consultants around.

Her energy and enthusiasm are infectious, as is her approach to team building. In true Midwestern fashion, she's direct and cuts right to the chase.

A veteran of the dental industry for more than 35 years, Judy deeply believes in the cohesiveness of a dental team, and always shoots straight on what it takes for a practice to be successful.

We recently sat down with Judy for a wide-ranging discussion on what it takes to create a harmonious dental team.

Creating an Effective 'We Team'

RevenueWell: So let's just jump right into this. You discussed the "We Team" in our practice growth ebook, and our marketing team was in love with that branding. How did you come up with the concept of the We Team?

Judy Kay: Actually, it started with just verbiage. Starting with uniting the leadership team because so much of the process with teams is from the top down.

So when the leadership team is not united, whether it be doctor and practice administrator or doctor and doctor, when it's "I" versus "we," it divides the team.

It [teamwork] is about saying "we." "We" do this. It's how "we" do things here and this is what "we've" agreed on. "We've" discussed this. This is what "we" came up with.

RevenueWell: Do you ever have difficulty getting complete buy-in from all parties?

Judy Kay: From the leadership team or the team?

RevenueWell: Either side.

Judy Kay: I get good buy-in because they're actually hiring me to come in. So they're wanting some change.

People have to feel pain or have a big desire to change to want to change. For many, it doesn't come easy. The change must add to the value of the benefits. And it has to be a big enough value of benefits.

So are you buying in? Yes. But it's because I'm hired to come in and effect or impact their culture.

RevenueWell: Once you finally realize that there's a problem, the next step is, "Okay, how do I fix this?"

Judy Kay: Right. And how big of a problem is it to them? You know, for some it's very, very different from practice owner to practice owner about what's important.

Some just want to come in and do their job. They don't really care whether it's a healthy culture or not. They just want to take care of their patients, and what happens behind closed doors as a team is irrelevant.

Importance of Consistent Leadership

RevenueWell: Is there a tipping point where you come in and you're like, "Okay, yup, I'm finding that this is a common theme and all these dental offices are at the same point?"

Judy Kay: I think turnover is a biggie. I think turnover is a sign of a negative culture. I think the battles, the constant negative energy, and drama [weigh on people] are also a sign.

Conflict is also a sign where there is lack of clear leadership. Or consistent leadership, let's put it that way.

So you'll see a lot of that. And the doctor doesn't even want to come work anymore. They're fed up with it, and I think that that is when they reach out to me.

Or the other way is when the team approaches the doctor.

They might have heard me speak somewhere or know someone that's experienced a Culture Camp that I've facilitated for another team. And they'll approach the doctor and say, "Look, we've really got problems here. We really want to bring her in."

People want to work in an environment that they want to go to. They don't want to feel like they're walking on eggshells or that there's a lot of conflict or stress.

Stress of business is one thing, but stress of people, bullying ... and there's a lot of bullying. There's a lot of really negative behaviors out there because people aren't really taught manners anymore.

RevenueWell: If you're spending anywhere between 20 and 50 hours a week in a place, you want it to be comfortable.

Judy Kay: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Making Unified Decisions

RevenueWell: How quickly do you find it pays dividends?

Judy Kay: Immediately.

So here's the thing. What happens is, you get the entire team, instead of just the doctor and manager, trying to pull everybody along, which would be a big load.

When we do the Culture Camps, we get the leadership team to be more of a We Team.

They're making united decisions, not making decisions on the fly, or what I call Fly-Bys.

The Culture Camp day is spent co-creating a clear direction with the team. The team then gets excited about being a part of the process.

It's a tipping point, and they're participating versus having to be reminded or pushed. They're excited.

It's just a big shift in culture. It's a big shift in responsibility and ownership across the board. So it takes a lot of the load off.

RevenueWell: Do you have any examples of a dental team that was in dire straits, but you pulled them out of a tailspin and now they're a well-oiled machine?

Judy Kay: One practice I came into, there were four team members that, had the Culture Camp not gone well, they would have given their notice that day.

RevenueWell: How big was the practice?

Judy Kay: Ten team members. So that's a big one.

Accountability Across the Dental Team

RevenueWell: Can you talk a little bit about the importance of soliciting feedback from the entire dental team?

Judy Kay: For me it's really helping the leadership team understand that a lot of times they don't keep the team in the loop, so the team may stumble on the functions.

A lot of times they don't get feedback on decisions, so the team feels like a victim. They're just here, and today they're doing it this way, tomorrow they're doing it another way. And there's no real explanation or understanding, or no inclusion of them.

And yet they [leadership teams] want team members to own the behaviors when they're not even a part of the decision process.

I think it's up to the doctor and the leadership team to make final decisions, but it's important to get feedback from their team or they feel like they're not a part of them team.

RevenueWell: How long have you been doing this, and how long did it take you to build that equity to where you can say, "Hey, you know what? I'm holding everybody accountable here."

Judy Kay: Some of us have been a coach since we were kids. That's always been my role. I was the kid on the playground that tried to make peace between people and help people work through things.

But I've been in dentistry since 1982. And started as a receptionist the first year, then was a practice administrator for 25 years. From there, I started my business in 2006.

And I really have always been a very straight shooter. I think it's because I'm from a farm in North Dakota. We grew up being real.

We were nice, but we didn't cover things up. And we were honest. And direct.

So for me, even as a receptionist or an office manager, I was always very real with the doctors I've worked with. That's always been just a part of who I am. I think that's just part of my upbringing and beliefs.

Taking a Results-Based Approach

RevenueWell: How important is it to focus on results instead of getting bogged down in the problem itself?

Judy Kay: It's simple but it's not easy, if that makes sense.

I take the tactic of, "If you're contributing, then what part, what role do you have in getting this outcome?"

I focus on the result. And I try to take the energy out of any conflict or any disagreement by focusing on the future.

What are the results we want?

If we know that certain actions got us here, let's talk about what other actions we could do to get a different result.

It's always forward moving, not deciding who was at fault. It doesn't matter who's at fault. It matters what we do moving forward.

RevenueWell: We know where we're at. We know where we want to be. Let's strip all the, let's ...

Judy Kay: We know what we don't want to do anymore, right?

RevenueWell: Yeah. Let's strip all the emotion out and just look at it almost like a math problem.

Judy Kay: Exactly. So then we simplify it.

I think a lot of people out there deal in concepts. They say, "Well, we're going to have a better attitude," or "We're going to work together better," or "We're going to do ..."If it's a concept that is just a fluffy thing, then that's not measurable. And what we have to do is put it into specific, actionable steps.

So for the doctor, that might be explaining that when you come in, if you want your team to be positive for your patients, you have to be positive to your team.

It all starts with how you treat your team. [That] is how they [will] treat your patients.

So, doctor, when you come in, put a smile on your face. Whether you feel like it or not. And if you're crabby, you can't yell at your team or your team is going to yell at each other.

Leading by Example

RevenueWell: How important is it for a doctor or practice owner to set the tone for their office?

Judy Kay: It's important to lead by example.

"Here's something to start doing," or "Here's something to stop doing."

From there we focus on two or three things at a time, until it becomes a habit.

RevenueWell: Makes sense. It's fascinating how that trickle-down works. There's just an energy. You know when you walk into a room and somebody's ticked off in there.

Judy Kay: Oh, absolutely.

RevenueWell: They may be the alpha, and there's just ... there's just something in the air. It's interesting.

Judy Kay: It really is. And whether the matter is small or large, the culture of a company either empowers you and energizes you to work hard, or it makes you feel like you're a victim of your circumstances in that you never know what's going to happen any day.

So it's a big difference in how much you're willing to commit and how hard you're willing to work based on what is brought from leadership. Then it's up to the team, and they have to step up.

But it starts with leadership, and then the team steps up. And you have some team members who like the drama, who like the swirling mass of chaos, because that means they can get by with a lot more.

RevenueWell: That's always baffling: people who like chaos.

Judy Kay: No, it's not my fun place, either.

Building Trust

RevenueWell: When you walk into a practice and you assess it, is there a certain tactic that you employ first? That initial jump-off?

Judy Kay: It's called building trust. If I want someone to change, if I want to help someone change, they have to be able to trust me.

So it's really about being very transparent, about being very authentic, and about getting to know them. Asking them questions, understanding where they're coming from, really taking time to know what it each person is about and how they feel about being there.

After you do it years and years, you become much more adept at moving that needle forward faster. But it really is about being present and caring.

Your energy is a reflection of your mindset. And if your mindset is right and you are thinking about, "How can I help these people? What can I do to help them create a happier, healthier, higher performing environment?" That is what they will feel. That's always my focus.

Not about, "How can I get them to do what I want?"

I give them specific things of, "If these are the results you want, here's how you can get there ... You tell me the results you want, and I'll help you get there."

So it's really about coming in open to hearing what they have to say and helping them get through the obstacles that are in their way.

And that has to do with building trust.

RevenueWell: This has been fun and super insightful! Thank you so much for taking time to speak with us.

Judy Kay: Awesome! I appreciate all you're doing. That was really fun. Take care!

Judy Kay Mausolf is an inspirational speaker, published author and dental culture specialist at Practice Solutions Inc. To find out more about her Culture Camps for dental teams, click here.

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