Trust Is a Must



Over the years, I’ve visited with thousands of dentists about the importance of making the dental office “dream team” a reality. Often, dentists mistakenly think that going to the right school, developing the right clinical skills and opening a practice in the right town are the fundamental aspects of building a highly productive office.

In a rush to act on such assumptions, many dentists make the mistake of relegating the development of an effective team to merely recruiting warm bodies with some experience in the dental field. But that action negates an essential truth: your ability to thrive as a dentist is more dependent on your team than on any other factor. While it is important to ensure that you have the right people in place, it is just as important for you (as the dentist) to create the right environment.

You can hire the best staff in the world, but if your practice is devoid of leadership and empowerment, you will have no better result than if you simply hired the first people who applied for the job.

In my experience, creating a good office environment largely depends on one principle factor. A dental office should be a place that your team can “possess,” in other words, a place where team members can take ownership of processes within the practice.

If your office culture is characterized by a sense of ownership among the team, then you are free from the minutiae of office management and can focus on delivering life-changing dentistry.

You should enable and empower your team to do their best, both for the practice and for your patients. The most successful practices are those in which the team acts as if they “own the place.” And you can help foster this environment.

As a leader, the first thing that you should encourage is a culture of trust. A high-functioning dental team must trust one another if each team member is accountable for their respective assignments.

Creating a culture of trust is more difficult than it may seem. We often think that being a good leader and a good dentist means that we need to control everything. The exact opposite is true. In order to be good leaders, we should let go of some things and allow team members to “own” their responsibilities. Namely, we need to trust them.

I’m not suggesting that you hand over the practice and let everyone do what they want. Not at all! You should define the expectations, clearly establish the objectives (and how the objectives will be measured), and get out of the way. Trust the talent that you have hired to make your vision a reality.

This principle, more than any other, defines good leadership. If you clearly establish the objectives and trust your team, they will rise to the occasion. As a result, your stress level will diminish and the time to do dentistry will increase.

The second thing you should do is realize that no individual is as smart as the collective team. The art of true leadership is found in liberating the team to do what is required in the most effective and humane way possible.

Thus a dentist is the “servant” of his or her team. In other words, the dentist becomes “just the dentist” and allows the team to utilize their skills within the office. The team members are trusted to perform their roles with the utmost competence.

To do this, dentists must have the self-confidence to encourage contrary opinions and to rely on the strengths of others. Dentists should listen to their team and then, within the context of the objectives and vision already established, take appropriate action. A sign of a high-performing dental practice is found in teams with a healthy spirit of autonomy.

The final aspect of developing highly functional teams is diversity. It is all too easy to get in the habit of categorizing team members by only their job titles and thereby limiting their contributions. Recognize the diverse abilities of team members and tap into resources that can supercharge your team and your practice.

Identify, liberate and polish the diverse skills inherent in your team. By doing so, you cultivate a highly productive team and create a true competitive advantage. Fostering diversity allows each team member to contribute to the practice’s success.

I can honestly say that a perfect team member doesn’t exist, just as the perfect dentist doesn’t exist. Instead of fixating on perfection, create a culture in which your team feels a certain amount of ownership at the practice. When team members feel trusted, believe that their opinions matter and are empowered with their own diverse talents, they become dream team members.

Look within and start building an office culture in which the dream team can emerge. Make an effort to create the right environment or your dream team may remain only that—just a dream.

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Dr. Dick Barnes is the leader in practice development for today’s cosmetic practice. A graduate of Marquette Dental School, he began his general dentistry practice in Rialto, California. As his practice, skills and reputation grew, he became known as one of the world leaders in cosmetic dentistry. In addition, Dr. Barnes taught at Loma Linda University and the University of Southern California, at their respective dental schools.


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