The Critical Importance of Team Development & Dynamics in Your Practice
Developing an effective team can be one of the most crucial aspects of success in a practice. It takes time, as each member brings unique personality traits, preferences, styles and experiences to the team. It is a worthy investment, because once things gel, a team that works together effectively will benefit your practice operations and improve the overall experience for your patients. It is important to remember that word of mouth remains the largest driver of new patient flow. Your patients are very observant to their surroundings and will be more comfortable if they feel they are being treated within a positive environment.
I remain an advocate of Bruce W. Tuckman’s model of team development. Tuckman was an authority on group dynamics. He passed away last March, but his four-stage model – Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing – remains a mainstay.
Tuckman’s Stages of Group Development:
This is where individuals come together for the first time, with the objective of working towards a common goal. Since it is the first phase of team development, most members are initially engaged, polite and positive. In a practice, this stage may involve team members avoiding conflict and controversy because they are more concerned with gaining the acceptance of their fellow members rather than achieving the team’s goal. It is critical at this time that team members get to know one another in order to remove barriers and learn about each other’s strengths and build trust. Building trust can include anything from team meetings, training, lunches and celebrating wins as a team. Trust leads to open communication between members, which is tremendously important for the next stage.
This stage is characterized by testing boundaries as members attempt to establish their preferred roles. This is when conflict can first arise, stemming from different personalities, opinions and values between members which can manifest as power struggles. This is the most delicate stage of the team development process – where teams are most susceptible to failure or dissolution. That’s why a foundation of trust is so important. If members feel they can express their ideas without fear of judgment, they will be more likely to identify where their interests lie. When respect is established and ideas can flow freely, differences of opinion or disagreements can be resolved in ways that benefit everyone and contributes to the team’s collective success.
This stage marks the development of the team’s mission, values and goals. By establishing these agreed-upon norms, teams are able to set guidelines for appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. They also provide a sense of identity for the team, allowing members to feel aligned and connected to the goals of the group. This can be the time when teams begin to socialize together beyond their specific responsibilities, in attempt to get to know one another even better. As a result, order, cohesion, team unity and commitment tend to be very strong during this stage of development.
The performing stage is the most valuable to team success in a practice. At this stage, teams are ideally producing great results, working cohesively and optimizing each member’s strengths. They are able to produce quality work without significant friction. Emphasis is strong toward accomplishment of team goals and members being focused on what is best for the team. Aspiring to reach this stage and remain at it for as long as possible must be a top priority. Maintaining peak performance can be challenging if members join or leave the practice. Such changes in the makeup of a team, including the introduction of new, strong personalities, can bring a team back to the Forming stage.
If there’s one single factor which goes the furthest toward a team being effective, all members must feel safe from being vulnerable. In other words, they must feel that they are able to express their opinions or feelings without fear of judgment or disrespect. When this is the case, members are able to contribute ideas, brainstorm freely, and develop innovative and creative solutions to challenges facing the practice.
Healthy conflict can be a good thing. Differences of opinion can spur thought-provoking and challenging conversations. Respectful disagreement can also increase the ability of team members to be open-minded and considerate of other thoughts and ideas.
All of the topics laid out here contribute in equally important ways to the ultimate success and productivity of a team. Once you have determined which stage of team development your practice team is at, reflect on the characteristics outlined above to determine which items you may need to help foster team growth. By striving to develop these values, you are taking essential steps toward having an efficient, high-performing practice team.
Chief Human Resources Officer