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How to get your team to work better together

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01 March 2015, at 12:00am

PAUL GREEN offers some guidelines on building a strong team within your practice, beginning with the need for everyone to communicate with understanding and respect and to set shared goals

STRONG teamwork is the difference between a practice that does OK and a business that smashes the competition.

No matter how hard you personally work to make your business succeed, no one person can do everything or know everything, and that is where the vital principle of teamwork comes in.

Poor, inefficient teamwork at best slows a practice down, and at worst will destroy it. Teams that do not work smoothly will cause clients (and the best employees) to go elsewhere.

There is no science to build a strong team. But there are some very important guidelines you can follow.

One of the essentials of effective teamwork is that everyone communicates with understanding and respect. Another is that the team sets shared goals and they help each other work towards them. And then celebrate success together. That can be as simple as enjoying cakes together or a big team bonus, or social occasion.

The other key essentials are enthusiasm and confidence. If these things are missing you’ve got to take steps to build them up.

You personally, as the practice owner, need good communication skills to do this. You need to be able to communicate a vision for the business and therefore the team, and help people work towards that, keeping them inspired and engaged all the way with that vision.

Help yourself achieve this by spending time building those relationships through a series of regular meetings, events and keeping in touch with people.

Another required skill is being able to notice when something is wrong and having the courage to do something about it. All too often I speak to practice owners who know there has been an issue in the team, in some cases for years, and are too afraid to do something about it. If there’s someone in your team who is underperforming, you have to tackle it. They’re unlikely to get better on their own, and they will drag the whole team down.

But even though you are the leader, getting teamwork right is something for the whole team to work on.

You need to know when to leave a team to get on with their task, and just “check in” every now and then to see how they are getting on and offer any support.

The biggest and most common mistake with delegation is that practice owners cannot actually let go and fail to give their teams the power to do stuff (known as empowerment).

One of our most popular mentors is a lady called Emma Wynne. She runs an HR company and has a Masters degree in employee engagement. Her role is to mentor our veterinary clients to help them get what they want and need out of their teams. She’s pretty busy, as you can imagine.

She recently hosted a seminar with Graham Ravenscroft, a national coach mentor for England Athletics. He showed just how many parallels there are between business and sport.

Graham spoke about the importance of the team that goes behind every athlete, even though we only see the athlete on the TV.

He has worked with Olympic gold medallist Jessica Ennis-Hill and pointed out that there is a whole team working with her behind the scenes on things such as nutrition as well as performance.

Graham made a simple but brilliant point: “No one person or team stumbles upon excellence – it has to be planned for and worked at.”

Graham’s essential components for good teamwork are:

  • shared vision
  • clear mission
  • agreed objectives
  • involve everyone
  • celebrate every success
  • reflect and learn from failure
  • understand what makes every one of your team members tick
  • strong, disciplined and supportive leadership
  • empowerment and trust
  • reward success

If you create a culture and environment that operates with all of the above, your practice will perform excellently.

Finally, some common people mistakes to avoid. Hiring the wrong people is one of the biggest; usually done when there is an urgent need to fill a vacancy. Get a locum or a temp to give yourself space to find the right person. You should be hiring slow and firing fast; not the other way around.

Lack of communication is a progress killer. As is your team misunderstanding what is really desired from them. This lack of clarity can kill focus and sap enthusiasm.

And never brush issues under the carpet. You will lose your team’s trust and create the wrong culture in the business. It’s always, always better to tackle a problem head on. And the earlier you fix it, the less damage it can do.