CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER
No one told you when you decided to go into endodontics that managing your team would be one of your greatest challenges and stress factors as a practice owner. Teams are complicated with a mixture of different personalities, motivations, work ethics, communication styles and individual quirks.
Over time, every team develops a culture that is influenced by each person’s presence on the team. One day, you can realize that your team has collectively settled around a culture that is falling short of your expectations, making management more difficult, failing to make progress on goals, and taking away from having fun every day at work.
The only way to change your team culture is through effective leadership because waiting for teams to naturally self-evolve without guidance does not work. Here are 3 common team cultures and mindsets that practice leaders need to address:
Entitlement culture is when team members expect special privileges, rewards or concessions that are unrelated to the diligent performance of their jobs.
Entitlement can show up in many ways, including a “What’s in it for me?” attitude, regularly arriving late, over-use of “sick” days, asking for salary advances, or the belief that long tenure entitles them to above-market compensation or makes them irreplaceable.
Entitlement can also be behavioral. For example, team members bringing the drama and distraction of their personal issues into the workplace, and then expecting their bad moods or personal demands to be accommodated.
Recommendation: Entitlement builds up over time. Team members remember every privilege or exception ever given to them or anyone else on the team. As the boss, you need to address entitlement with calm, consistent and detached leadership. Detached means that you care and listen, but you do not allow either personal relationships or emotional situations to unduly influence you. Except for genuinely rare special circumstances or personal emergencies, respecting the fundamentals of the employment relationship must be consistently maintained.
Inertia culture is when the team is settled into doing their jobs in the same way it has been done for a long time, and they are deeply resistant to any changes that you may try to implement. That resistance can appear in many forms: open disagreement, disregarding instructions, half-hearted “effort”, taking no action unless specifically directed, making excuses to delay changes, and looking for any reason why “it won’t work.”
Inertia is the result of the absence of positive energy for progress. If goals have not been updated in a long time, the motivation to be engaged in improvement is lacking. On most teams, you’ll have a combination of people who are naturally engaged in personal improvement in their jobs, and people who are primarily focused on predictable steadiness in their jobs. Without effective leadership, predictable steadiness tends to dominate as it is the lowest common denominator.
Recommendation: Inertia is like the two sides of a coin. One side is the culture of standing still. The other side is the culture of growth. Switching to a culture of growth requires consistent and positive focus from practice leaders. Don’t underestimate how much encouragement and support your team needs to make changes. Education, coaching, team meetings, new strategies and even 1-on-1 attention are sometimes required to restart a stalled team.
Toxic culture is when as few as one individual on the team has such outsized dominating or disruptive energy that they shut down everyone else’s motivation. Common signs include a confrontational personality, gossiping, bullying, undermining you or others, passive-aggressiveness, finger pointing, the blame game, overly controlling, etc.
Most of the time, you know who this person is. Frequent team issues often revolve around them, or you may observe how other team members avoid engaging with them. You may find this person difficult to lead or work with on a daily basis. But sometimes you don’t know who it is because they are one of your favorites, and they use that favoritism behind your back in a way that the rest of the team resents or feels is unfair.
Recommendation: Toxicity is rarely about capability and competence, and almost always a behavioral issue that is creating negativity for the team. Even small but repeated behaviors can build up over time to toxic levels. As the leader, you need to address these issues one-on-one, which is necessary (albeit difficult) conversations. Be caring but firm, and make it clear what your concern is and what changes you need to see. Sometimes they may not even be aware of what they are doing. Give them a chance to be better team players, but recognize that some people won’t or can’t adapt and you need to tell them to move on.
Rebooting your leadership style
The sober reality of team cultures is that they reflect your past leadership approach and what you have encouraged or allowed to persist. Just as great teams are the result of great leadership, struggling teams are the result of struggling leadership. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.
Sometimes you need to hit the reset button in a way that the team can embrace a new approach to leadership from you. Often a catalyzing event is useful such as a team retreat to a seminar or engaging a practice coach. These are signs to your team that your priorities are changing, your goals are changing, and that you are investing in your team so everyone can grow and have a better experience at work.