The Articulate Dentist - A Blog by the Metro Denver Dental Society

5 Ways to Build and Preserve Team Culture

By: Ms. Kim McGuire

The last two years have provided all of us, especially the dental community, ample opportunity for leaders to learn how to embrace change, be flexible, pivot our focus and continue to provide excellent patient care. We have found dental practices that are not only surviving but thriving, are those that have taken leadership and vision focus to the next level. Practices of all shapes and sizes have faced staff turnover in one form or another due to various reasons. A visit to your local restaurant or retail outlet certainly means you have experienced this as a customer.

We know if you take the very best care of your patients, the money and profits will follow! And to do that you must have a solid team culture. So how do you find, retain and grow your team? What we know is people come to a job for money, however, that is not why they stay. They stay because they feel connected to the culture of your organization and the purposeful work you do.

Values, Vision and Agreements
Defining your core values is the first step in creating a strong culture. Taking the time to decide what is most important to you will help define your vision. Do you have values around health and wellness, compassion, service, technology, quality? Next, creating your vision statement is a process that will further clarify where the practice is going, how you take the very best care of patients, the environment you want to create and who you ideally want to serve. Finally, adopting a set of team agreements will establish a code of conduct the team can follow to execute that vision. An example of an agreement would be, “We agree not to subgroup (gossip) about our patients or each other,” or “We agree to accept responsibility for our actions and to provide a supportive environment for our teammates.” This process will align your culture so you can attract and retain team members.

Choose the Right People
Here are some steps to finding the right members to join the team:

  • Know what technical and emotional skills are needed in a team member (review core values and vision as stated above).
  • Make your ad stand out – use personality, brag about great culture and let candidates know what kind of experience the patient has at the practice.
  • Potential candidates are reviewing social media, websites and reviews; make sure the online presence represents the culture an ideal candidate wants to join.
  • Embrace excellent temps…you never know when someone is done temping and wants to join a great team like yours.

Generally speaking, you want three things in a potential hire: beliefs, values and attitude. If one of these is not aligned with you or the rest of your team, you will be disappointed. Of course, clinical team members must come with the proper know-how; the rest you can teach if they have a great attitude. Danny Meyer says in his book “Setting the Table” to hire 49% for technical skills and 51% for emotional skills. Emotional skills need to be aligned with your core values as well as include high emotional intelligence. Are they able to communicate effectively and deal with people well? New team members must believe they can make a difference and they must value high-quality care and service.

Establish Consistent Systems
If I asked any of your team members about systems in the practice, would they answer in a similar manner? If you are bringing new team members in and there have not been established systems, you may be setting them (and the rest of your team) up for failure. Systems should be documented, trained on and discussed. I am referring to the scheduling to goal system, the hygiene recare and reactivation system, the new patient experience system, the internal marketing system of asking for referrals and reviews, the huddle system…. And, the list goes on.

Invest in Training
Not only will new team members need to fit into the practice’s culture, but they will also need to know what a good job looks like. Too often we see experienced team members join a team and the practice assumes they know it all. Everyone needs to learn exactly how your team does things. Show them Success Criteria. Similar to a job description, a Success Criteria shows a team member specifically what success looks like in their position. If there seems to be a misalignment as to what the team member thinks is most important and what the doctor and/or office administrator believes is most important, create clarity and train well! Create a safe environment for the new team members to contribute ideas as to what has worked in other practices.

By investing in training, you will ‘slow down to speed up’ so to speak. For example, have the new hygienist shadow the lead hygienist for a few days so they will know exactly what is expected in each appointment, what the period standard of care is, how the new patient experience looks and finally how to co-discover and hand-off potential restorative treatment to the Doctor during the exam. Keep the lines of communication open for any feedback from either party. A checklist and a plan for the first few weeks can create clarity and get a new team member off to a great start.

Be the Culture Keeper
If you want an “A” team, don’t keep “C” players. I realize this is difficult in the current environment however, we do see the job market moving in the right
direction. If you are keeping people on the team who do not fit the culture and are creating a toxic environment, you must get rid of them in order to keep the other team players. How many times has someone who was toxic left and you cannot believe the culture shift? This happens all the time; we don’t realize how negative the energy is until that person leaves. Be mindful of this and make a commitment to giving people an opportunity to ‘step up’ or not be a part of
the practice. You will be preserving the culture you have worked so hard to establish. There is an old saying by John Maxwell, “Don’t send your Ducks to Eagle School.” Keep that in mind when investing in the team – are they eagles worth investing in?

Finally, a few more tips:

  • Build relationships with your team members – ask them about their personal lives. Know what is most important to them and the things they value.
    Work is just a part of our lives… let them know you care.
  • Have fun! Dentistry is about serving others. You can have fun doing it and the patients will feel that energy and want to refer their friends and family to
    the practice.
  • Be enthusiastic and create an environment where people want to come to work!
  • Inspire and reward the team with things like a BAM (basic amount of money) Bonus system that is based on profitability or a daily reward system
    like “grab bag.” Have them be a part of the financial success of the practice.

When the leader is walking the talk of values, vision and culture team members notice. Create a culture that you can be proud of!


Kim McGuire is an Executive Coach with Fortune Management. She brings over 20 years of Dental Executive Coaching and practice management knowledge
to the Colorado Dental community. She is a Key Business Strategist and knows how to grow dental practices. Kim is passionate about leadership coaching that enhances communication, relationships and accountability. She advises doctors and teams to implement strong, repeatable systems for maximum effectiveness. Kim also has a deep understanding of the Business of Dentistry. As a certified Life Coach, she has experience in personal growth and professional development so her clients become their best self!