Effective team dynamics: how can I build a “winning” team? - Veterinary Practice
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Effective team dynamics: how can I build a “winning” team?

Effective team dynamics is a crucial and fundamental driver for success in practice – if your team is highly motivated and client-focused, your practice will thrive

The Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeon (SPVS) logo

Effective team dynamics is probably one of the most important drivers for success in a veterinary practice. If you can create a highly motivated team that focuses on your clients’ needs, the practice will thrive.

In a small veterinary practice with fewer than five employees, success is often driven by the enthusiasm and commitment of one or two key individuals, while the owner’s behaviours and beliefs typically define the values and outputs of the business. Over time, the reputation of the practice grows, and the owner employs more people. This “success dynamic” shifts from the efforts of the individual owner to how the values and ethos are embedded within the practice team (Figure 1).

FIGURE (1) The virtuous circle explains the importance of team development (Pete Orpin, Anval)

The challenges in growing veterinary practices stem from the clients and urgent management demands impacting on the leader’s time and energy. The leaders can end up feeling the practice is running them! The skilful and well-trained leader, however, learns to move from “rowing the boat” to “nudging the tiller”, wherein the whole team takes responsibility for the success of the practice.

Achieving this evolved state of efficient teamwork is hugely important to ensure the mental well-being of the whole practice team is secure. Leadership training is key, so training the whole practice team in a wider range of non-clinical skills is also important.

How can you create a winning team?

FIGURE (2) The Foxy triangle illustrating how teamwork is underpinned by respect, honesty and communication (Paul Fox, REAL Success)

The fundamentals of teamwork centre around communication, honesty and respect; the “Foxy Triangle” (Figure 2) model has been developed by Paul Fox as a tool for investigating team dynamics. Each element is scored by each member of the team, and this forms the starting point for discussions and consultancy. A truly great team will be able to openly discuss the challenges and opportunities of the practice and how the team functions. Confidently expressed “constructive dissent” is a great indicator of a high-level team and should be encouraged rather than repressed.

Top tips for creating a winning team

  • Recruit and retain the right people: having a clear idea of the values and skills of the people you recruit is essential. You can train people in clinical competencies. Recruiting people based on their values, attitudes, ambitions and enthusiasm is often undervalued in the recruitment process. Retention will be driven by the quality of the induction, peer-to-peer support and human factors that help people settle into a team
  • Encourage open and honest communication: listen more, talk less. Respect everyone’s contributions and seek to build the practice on contributions from the team. Welcome new ideas that will help the clients and the practice
  • Create great meetings using a “servant” or “coaching” style of leadership: spend twice as much time planning the meeting than running the meeting. Generate structured debates, collate opinions and use Metaplan methodologies to harness the “views of the room”. Avoid telling the team your solution to their problems and avoid the tendency to “diagnose and treat”. Use great open questions and listen carefully to answers without judgement. The team generally knows what needs to happen. Let them shape their own future
  • Clearly define the practice values and purpose: build your one-to-one reviews and discussions around your core values and business direction. Everyone needs to appreciate what the practice stands for and what its purpose and values are – this clearly anchors the team and defines the direction of travel
  • Train, delegate and empower: create a culture of training, self-development and responsibility. Explore what your team want to do more of and help them grow. Non-clinical training in communication, supervision and leadership is essential for this to work
  • Encourage ownership and self-development: all too often in underdeveloped teams the employees look to the leaders to deliver the decisions and answers. Without empowerment and ownership, leaders are destined for burnout
  • Understand strengths and weaknesses: nobody has all the answers and is omnicompetent in all areas. Psychometric testing (Belbin, Myers Briggs) and behavioural profiling (DISC, VITA) are effective ways to identify your team’s strengths and allowable weaknesses. Understanding other people’s skill sets and preferences allows you to share tasks or projects based on strengths
  • Create team “ground rules”: encourage the team to establish guidelines on how they should communicate and operate. For example, what is a realistic timescale and process for reporting lab results, and how should we approach estimates? Define the simple day-to-day processes with the aim of creating a common, agreed-upon approach which is the practice’s best standard
  • Encourage a culture of feedback: train the team on how to deliver and receive feedback. It’s not easy! Well-delivered feedback is a gift and is highly motivational. The “even better if” improvement discussions and open discussions on how processes can be improved help improve efficiencies and mental well-being. Simply avoiding feedback seldom helps
  • Avoid micromanaging and creating risk-averse behaviours: accept that life in a veterinary practice is not without risks of errors and miscommunication. Create that self-healing learning approach from adverse events rather than punishing people and seeking perfect results in an imperfect world. Let people learn and develop through their own experiences. Nobody gets out of bed to do a bad job, but sometimes things just happen and don’t go according to plan. Never waste a good mistake; flip your failures into a learning experience
  • “Trust is binary; you can’t half-trust people”: a consistent approach is essential to build trust. Everyone must be confident that the team “has their backs” and is always there to help them. Any areas of discord that can undermine trust have to be resolved. Without trust and honesty teams don’t work
  • Creating great team interactions: well-planned meetings, small group discussions, facilitated group thinking and celebrating successes are great ways to encourage positivity. These create meaningful relationships and reinforce trust and honesty. A meal out for a dysfunctional team is not going to “cut it” and somehow make the team work better!
  • Make sure all bonuses and rewards are team-based: individual rewards and bonuses can be highly destructive to team morale especially if they believe they may be undeserved. Financial rewards and funded days away are only part of the mix in terms of developing a winning team

Final thoughts – how can SPVS help?

Leadership, management, team dynamics and self-development are the four key elements of the SPVS Thriving in Practice hub. Remember, leaders cannot do it all: successful practices that have healthy safe working environments with good retention of highly motivated people really invest in their people.

Most CPD budgets are spent on learning about the 2 percent of diseases we see infrequently. Perhaps we have got the balance wrong in how we invest in training in our practices? SPVS has developed a suite of resources and courses to help busy practices learn in their own time via the hub.

Paul Fox

Paul Fox is a director of REAL Success, a business specialising in training and developing people. He is a Nuffield scholar and is passionate about helping businesses grow and develop the capability, talent and resilience of their greatest resource – their people.

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Pete Orpin

Pete Orpin, BVSc, FRCVS, is current chair of the board of the Society of Practising Veterinary Surgeons (SPVS) and a business consultant for Anval. He was recently made a fellow of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons for meritorious contributions to the profession. He is passionate about improving career satisfaction in clinical practice, and his key focus areas are improving cattle health, lecturing and business consultancy.

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