Inside Dentistry
March 2006
Volume 2, Issue 2

Building a Better Team

Roger P. Levin, DDS

The first law of dental practice management is: A dentist can’t be in two places at once. The second law is: A dentist who tries to be in two places at once will end up going nowhere fast.

Many dentists ignore the first law only to learn the hard lessons of the second law. You are not a magician. You cannot be chairside and at the front desk simultaneously. The solution to not being everywhere at once is to train the team. However, because of the hectic pace of most dental practices, dentists often do not have time to train each team member.

Only So Much Time in a Day

It is simply unrealistic to think that dentists can spend most of their day involved in direct patient care while simultaneously managing a practice. Dental practices may be small businesses, but they contain all of the complexity of larger businesses, especially regarding the number of services offered. This leaves dentists with little time to act as managers during working hours. In a seminar that I recently presented, one dentist raised her hand and complained that she is spending up to 2 hours each day filling out charts and paperwork once the patient schedule has been completed. There often does not seem to be enough time to be both manager and dentist.

Developing a well-trained team is critical to running a successful practice. By learning to delegate more responsibilities to team members, dentists can spend more time chairside with patients and less time on unnecessary administrative matters that can be handled by staff members. Working through the team alleviates stress and allows dentists to focus on patient care and more productive procedures.

My recommendation is that dentists spend the majority of their time directly involved with patients, diagnosis, and treatment. This raises the question, “How can dentists effectively build teams while practicing dentistry?” The following steps can help dentists build strong teams as well as effectively manage their practices.

1. Create a Practice Vision

The dentist should write a vision statement of where he or she would like to see the practice in approximately 3 to 7 years. The vision statement becomes a communication tool, helping the team to understand where the practice is headed and empowering them to make the vision a reality through excellent patient care and superior customer service.

2. Develop the Correct Model

Based on the dentist’s vision, each practice should have a clear model of how it will operate using “best practices.” This term does not refer to the best dental practices. Instead, it refers to the best available methods and systems that can be used as a model to make the practice more efficient and productive. Best practices must be customized to fit the preferences of individual dentists and practices. Using best practices along with individual practice data, a model can be developed that maps out how a practice should operate to attain production levels of $500,000, $1 million, or even $2 million per year.

3. Implement Step-By-Step Systems

Once the model has been established, step-by-step systems must be put in place for each major practice area. Whether it is scheduling, case presentation, or patient financial management, the practice requires step-by-step systems that allow the current team to reach maximum effectiveness and efficiency. These systems also act as outstanding training tools for new team members. Ideally, a practice should have step-by-step business systems in place so that the team can rely on the systems rather than the dentist. The better the systems, the less time the dentist will spend addressing management issues on a daily basis.

Systems should include a series of checklists that each team member can use to understand exactly what is expected every day. This creates accountability. It takes time to develop systems and train the team, but the rewards are tremendous. Once the right systems are implemented, they can be easily updated and the team can operate far more independently.

4. Set Clear Goals

With the team’s input, set clear goals. When a team feels that they have been part of the goal-setting process, they are much more committed to achieving those goals. Goals should be written down, have a deadline, and be measurable. At monthly staff meetings, the dentist and the team should review the goals, discuss any current challenges, and review progress toward goal achievement. If the practice is experiencing any difficulties, the dentist and the team need to evaluate the issues and how to overcome them. Goal setting keeps everyone focused on the same objectives.

5. Develop Employee Commitments

Create a list of team commitments so that every team member understands what is expected and required. The commitments should be written based on the practice model and goals. Commitments are not goals, but rather three to five statements that the team is willing to commit to and practice every day. For example:

We are committed to excellent customer service and achieve that every day through individual accountability, practice systems, and a dedication to the satisfaction of every patient.

Although the subject of this commitment is customer service, there should also be a series of commitments focusing on excellent clinical care, teamwork, and professional growth, among others. Commitments encourage people to live up to a standard and also send a clear message of what is expected. However, simply writing commitments and sharing them once or twice with the team is not sufficient. As the leader of the team, it is up to the dentist to continually reinforce the commitments to the team on a regular basis.

6. Use Scripting to Train the Team

Scripts should be written for every patient interaction. The team’s verbal skills have a direct result on efficiency, customer service, and patient satisfaction. The easiest way to ensure consistently excellent communication is to use scripting. It is a training tool that not only teaches the dental team, but also results in more consistent information being communicated to patients. As staff members role-play and learn their scripts, they become more knowledgeable about the services offered by the practice. In this way, team members become more confident in presenting treatment information to patients.

Scripts should be used as a map, providing directions for staff members and suggestions on the best ways to communicate with patients. Keep in mind that the goal is not to literally read the script to the patient, but to use it as a training guide to present consistent practice information to patients. How well the dental team communicates will affect patient perceptions of quality and overall customer service.


Once these management steps have been taken, the dentist as a leader will be ready to begin reinforcement. At morning meetings, staff meetings, and throughout the day, it is incumbent upon the dentist to remind the team of their vision, goals, and commitments. When consistently reinforced, these goals become items that the team thinks about during the day. Leading a team is extremely challenging. Many dentists become so immersed in the day-to-day details that they forget about the vision, model, and commitments except during a crisis.

Unfortunately, team building requires constant reinforcement, not once-a-month reminders. Dentists must learn how to reinforce the message on a regular basis. Whether it is giving a compliment to a team member or discussing daily goals at morning meetings, continual reinforcement by the dentist can make a tremendous difference. Building a strong team is a requirement of leadership and will help the practice reach its potential.

For a free excerpt from Levin Group’s Management Scripts book, e-mail consulting@levingroup.com with “Scripts” in the subject line.

About the Author
Roger P. Levin, DDS
CEO, Levin Group, Inc.
Owings Mills, MD

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