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Internal Dividends: Five Easy Steps to Successful Team Building

Whether managing a small business or a large company, your number one resource and expenditure is your personnel. This means, any time you experience employee turnover, your business margin can be impacted significantly and, over time, turnover could close your business altogether. In this regard, medical practices are really no different than any other type of business. To help decrease employee turnover costs, managers and leaders should look internally to make the office environment a more positive place to work. One serious way to accomplish this is through team-building efforts.

A good manager...

Each of us has a basic need to be appreciated and valued as a person, not just for getting the sale or for showing up to work 8-5 every day. Simple, everyday expressions of interest and accomplishment promote a strong sense of teamwork and a positive work environment. As a manager and leader, it is important to take a keen interest in your staff's well-being, support any minor or major life decisions, provide opportunities to share personal development reward and recognize improvements, encourage continued education, show appreciation for a job well done and, above all else, be consistent and fair at all times.

Five Easy Steps:

Listed below are five easy steps to successful team building for your staff and or office. Before you begin to implement team building, you must first make yourself available to your team. "Being there" for them in every capacity is the first major step in improving morale and increasing a meaningful sense of teamwork. Remember, team building is not one isolated event, but an ongoing, never-ending process. When team-building tools are used effectively and continuously, they can dramatically boost morale, decrease turn-over, improve customer satisfaction, and decrease overhead costs.

Step One: Implement Monthly Staff Meetings

A monthly staff meeting set in stone and occurring at the same time every month promotes a sense of continuity and consistency for employees. Provide food so there is no down time waiting for people to retrieve food and no distraction. Supplying food also shows you care and value their time. If possible, keep meetings to exactly one hour and break them down into two distinct blocks of time, i.e., 30min/30min or 15min/45min. First, have the business portion of your meeting. Always allow time for questions and answers so the staff feels like they have been heard. Please note that many people will not discuss major issues in front of a group, so the topics during this meeting may need to be general in nature. Second, have a training or in-service portion of your meeting. This is the time the staff can learn about new technologies, new techniques, or new products the office is offering. If at all possible, include clinicians in this process. That way, the staff will feel that the physicians care about advancing their knowledge base. Remember not to turn these meetings into a gripe session but to use the time to enhance communication and education between management and staff.

Step Two: Plan Annual Events

Outside office activities can greatly boost morale and teamwork back in the office. Getting to know coworkers in a different, enjoyable, and casual setting is a terrific way to enhance a team spirit. You do, however, have to select activities that will appeal to everyone (or at least a significant majority). It's almost impossible to please everyone all the time, but do not plan an outing just because the "boss" likes it. Some examples of these types of outside-the-office activities are: monthly movie night, a concert or play, annual picnics, holiday parties, special occasions (birth of a child), etc. All of these can be nominal in cost or as elaborate as you see fit. The point of these events is to show the staff you can work hard and play hard together.

Step Three: Implement a "Pride Program"

Many people will leave a job without any warning or for any apparent reason. Typically, if managers would conduct exit interviews, they would discover the reason someone left is not typically due to money or unsafe working conditions but due to low morale and lack of teamwork in the office. Most people feel where they work is a reflection upon them and therefore want to take pride in what they do. A Pride Program is something that can be simple or complex. Some elements that could be included in a Pride Program are:

  • Bonus Bucks: A pre-printed coupon can be given to all employees and physicians to hand to anyone in the office when they do something beyond the call of duty. On the back of the coupon, the person states what the other person did to deserve the "buck." An employee could then turn in their bucks for rewards or prizes. For instance, if you receive five bonus bucks, you could exchange them for a $10 Starbucks coffee card or trade 10 bonus bucks for two movie passes, etc. The manager could award the employees with their prizes during the monthly staff meeting. You will enjoy watching everyone as they start to improve their attitudes and teamwork, stimulated by your creative incentive.
  • Smiles Rewards: Airlines reward customers based on miles. Your rewards will be based on smiles. Basically, the concept is catching people in action giving customers smiles. Management can hand out stickers, buttons, or some other type of token to indicate to others that this employee is effectively utilizing a smile throughout the work day. Don't just focus on staff smiles directed at customers or patients; reward staff-to-staff smiles, as well.
  • Referral Program: Reward employees for referring others to the office. The reward can be monetary, which most people like, but you might also consider time off with pay, an early out on a Friday, an extra break, a long lunch, etc.
Step Four: Emphasize Continuous Customer Service

Most people want to do a good job and enjoy their work environment. With that in mind, treating your customers with amazing customer service is key to enjoying one's work and workplace. Make it a point to regularly stress customer service within the office setting. While some managers do not see this as a morale issue, it can become one, especially in the long term. Hold annual customer service training for all staff members to reinforce the importance of customer care and to help keep customer service at the forefront of everyone's mind.

Step Five: Hold Employees Accountable

Holding employees accountable for their actions can have a tremendous impact on office morale. If some staff can "get away with" treating customers or other employees rudely or disrespectfully and there are no consequence for their actions, others will become disenchanted with their work environment. To handle this type of issue before it arises, every office needs to have clear discipline policies in place. The last thing a manager wants to face is the loss of an excellent, hard-working employee because discipline is not administered to employees who truly deserve to be held accountable. Always be firm and consistent in your actions and your employees will respect you all the more.

Team-Building Is a Process

Practices that have high morale and "happy" employees work hard at achieving their goals. Team building is a process, based on a foundation of proven and identifiable steps and techniques. Today's work environment may be demanding and stressful, but it is still possible to use a well-defined, team-building process to create a positive workplace atmosphere and attitude that has staff excited to come to work every morning.

A Ropes Challenge Course

A Ropes Challenge Course can be the most effective team-building resource you have available; however, it requires a greater investment and will take an entire day to complete. A single Ropes Challenge Course can do more for team building than many events put together. During a Ropes Challenge Course, everyone will learn how to work as a team through trust, dependence, cooperation, listening, and faith. Also, everyone will learn they are capable of a lot more then they thought they were before the event started.

More team-building ideas and Ropes Challenge Courses can be found at:
- www.managementhelp.org
- www.time-management-guide.com
- www.teambuildinginc.com
- www.leadership-tools.com
- www.ropescoursesinc.com
- www.adventureassoc.com
- wilderdom.com


About the Author: Jan May, FACHE, MHA is Vice President and Marketing Consultant with Marketing Specific, Inc. specializing in healthcare practice consulting, marketing strategies, project management, and helping businesses grow.