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Rethinking the Dental Team

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I hardly ever hold a seminar anymore when I'm not approached by dentists asking where to find good or well-trained team members. It's a question that demonstrates the frustration many dentists are having with recruiting and hiring highly trained, self-disciplined team members who are committed to doing an excellent job. This is not only an issue in dentistry. Every CEO I meet at national CEO meetings would like to have skilled team members dedicated to doing a great job every day. Unfortunately, this is incredibly unrealistic.

Desire versus reality

I applaud any dentist who has the desire to create a great team. One of the most fundamental principles of success in any business is to surround yourself with highly committed people with a high potential for growth and improvement. Unfortunately, you cannot simply recruit and hire great team members anytime you need them. It would be wonderful if we could, but it's simply not reality. Why not? Consider the following factors:

The current unemployment rate in the United States is extremely low. The lower the unemployment rate, the higher the job opportunities. Compensation also rises, making it even more competitive when hiring the right people for the right jobs.

Dentistry has become increasingly complex in the last 15 to 20 years. The introduction of numerous new materials and services, complex technologies, insurance policies and procedures, infection control procedures, management software systems and a host of other factors have made the job of any dental team member increasingly difficult to master.

Dental teams must work together. Just because team members excel at their jobs doesn't mean that they will excel at working well within a team. There are numerous examples in the world of sports where teams with average players beat teams with superstars simply by working better as a team. The better a dental team can interact and cooperate, the better the practice will be.

There are different levels of employee availability in different geographic regions. In some areas, there is a true shortage of people applying for jobs in dental practices. This may be related to which areas have educational institutions that train and certify dental staff members.

Rethinking the dental team

In accepting this new reality, dentists must rethink the dental team. Here are five steps you can take now:

STEP 1: Take on a strong leadership role. Dentists spend years in school learning the foundation of dental diagnosis and treatment, but many have put little time into leadership education. Unlike preparing a tooth for a restoration, leadership has a wide variation of approaches that can work. Each dentist must discern what type of leader they want to be and then be consistent in that level of leadership. Without leadership it's almost impossible to build an excellent team.

STEP 2: Evaluate every team member currently employed. All team members are not equal. They are not all trained at the highest level or equally dedicated to the practice. Regardless of their varying levels, all team members must continually improve. If improvement is taking place on a consistent basis, the team will get better and practice performance will improve as well. Team members who feel there is no room for improvement or aren't motivated to improve will hold back the entire team and negatively affect long-term practice performance.

STEP 3: Offer regular training. Dental and dental team members are highly motivated to treat patients. Unfortunately, simply operating day to day and treating patients will not lead to overall team improvement. Time must be set aside for team member training. Keep in mind that dragging the team to a local all-day course that is probably not applicable to many of them is not effective. Each team member's training needs should be assessed, and that training can be accessed online, at seminars, with books and articles or with experts. If you don't take the time and invest in training people, they simply won't grow.

STEP 4: Challenge the team to grow. Tom Watson, the CEO of IBM, had signs all over IBM facilities that simply said "Think." He understood that if people would take the time to think, they would grow, come up with great ideas and contribute. Challenge your dental team members to think regularly and encourage them to make decisions whether they are right or wrong. People who aren't making mistakes are not growing. You can use those opportunities to show them how they might do it differently in the future.

STEP 5: Remember that your team members aren't your peers. Yes, you are all part of a team, but it is the doctor or other owners who have taken the risk, invested the money and built or purchased the practice. Although it is always wonderful to get feedback from the team members and look at them as internal advisers, it's often a mistake not to take certain steps that are in the best interest of the practice simply because team members don't want to participate or do not like the idea. Owing to concern over losing team members, there is an increasing number of doctors who don't make decisions in the best interest of the practice and end up losing growth and opportunity.


It's difficult, if not impossible, to hire highly trained team members who are committed to excellence every day right from the start. It's far more realistic to hire people with potential and take the time to help them develop. Use these steps to help you rethink your approach to building and leading your dental team.

Dr. Levin is the CEO and founder of Levin Group, a leading practice management consulting firm that has worked with over 30,000 practices. He has written 67 books and over 4,000 articles and regularly presents seminars in the U.S. and around the world. To contact Dr. Levin or to join the 40,000 dental professionals who receive his Practice Production Tip of the Day, visit or email