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Is the team onboard?

Philippe Baralon, Antje Bl├Ąttner, Geoff Little, Pere Mercader - 18/05/2013

Is the team onboard?


This article was kindly provided by:


1/ The leader

Every good team deserves a great leader and the practice owner will be seen by others, both within and outside the practice, as a leader in their clinic. And it would be a very special individual who possessed all of the qualities listed below and who knew how and when to use them and in what measure. Individuals may well be born with some of the attributes, but may still need to work on them to improve their skills; others attributes may have to be acquired. It is also possible to use others in the team who have skills to take over the leadership in certain projects or situations.

An effective leader will possess the following qualities:

• Vision

• Toughness

• Fairness

• Adaptability

• Integrity

• Warmth

• Enthusiasm

All leaders, even those whom perhaps we do not admire as individuals, have a clear vision as to where they want to get to and by when and how they are going to get there. Effective leaders will share that vision and end point with their team. Leaders need to demonstrate toughness in dealing with barriers that may get in the way of their journey and with individual team members on occasions, but they must demonstrate fairness in doing so, dealing with individuals in an even-handed and fair manner. Not to tackle problematic team members, who for example are not pulling their weight, can easily have an adverse effect on the rest of the team.

Toughness must not be confused with stubbornness, and if for example during the course of a journey towards a goal, it becomes obvious that a change of direction is necessary the leader must be adaptable in their approach.

People are more likely to want to come on that journey, and are much more likely to contribute on the way if they know where they are heading to and why. If it is a long journey, better still to have regular waypoints along the way, that once reached, reassure the travellers they are still on track. You may even consider celebrating reaching those waypoints, as there is nothing like success to spur a team on to greater achievements.

Generally people follow a leader for two main reasons. Firstly out of fear, and secondly because they want to. And it makes a leader’s role that much easier if the team members are keen to follow as opposed to having to pressgang people into staying with them. After all, a good team is one that functions just as effectively and efficiently in the leader’s absence as it does when he or she is standing by watching with either a stick or carrot in hand. What is it that makes team members keen to follow in addition to the qualities already mentioned? When dealing with people, leaders need to have integrity and display warmth. A good leader will display warmth in being approachable and will have the integrity to ensure what is shared with individual team members remains confidential.

Most great team leaders have tremendous enthusiasm for what they have achieved or for what they do. That enthusiasm is infectious and ensures they are going to lead from the front. When it comes to leading the team, an effective leader will know the strengths of each individual and use those attributes for the betterment of all. Being able to delegate is key to having an effective and motivated team.

2/ Delegation

The one thing we all have an equal amount of, is hours in the day, even though some people always seem to achieve more than others in that same 24 hours. And although it may be the leader’s role to provide the vision, decide on the strategy and perhaps the tactics, they will have to hand the baton to other to achieve their objectives; something we call management. The problem is that most veterinarians display A Type personality traits and nobody can quite do the job as well as they can and as such are poor delegators. They can be good abdicators and all too often, if they do delegate, they stand over the individual offering helpful advice, on how they would do it!


“The best leader is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it”.

Theodore Roosevelt


The simple rules of delegation are:

• Tell the individual exactly what it is you want them to do and why

• Ensure the task is SMARTER

• Provide the necessary resources and training

• Encourage regular meetings to discuss progress and provide feedback

• Have an open door policy regarding help, but don’t stand in the doorway!

• Don’t forget to provide praise for a job well done


3/ Smarter objectives

It is important, where possible to set the team SMARTER Objectives. SMARTER is an adaptation of the more usual business acronym SMART and stands for:

• Specific

• Measurable

• Agreed

• Realistic

• Timed

• Extending

• Rewarding

So instead of setting a goal of “introducing a stock control system into the practice to deal with consumables”, you would be better to “research, agree and successfully implement a new stock control system that will achieve a 10% saving within 9 months”. Or instead of “needing to make sure we book more client appointments”, set the following goal, “to look into the reasons behind the low conversion of enquiries into ‘appointments made’, and agree proposals for actions to be taken that will lead to a conversion percentage of 50% in 3 months’ time”.

Objectives need to be specific in terms of what it is you want to achieve and by when. The target needs to be realistic and agreed amongst the team. You may want to set the bar a little higher to make it extending and have some reward in place when the objective is achieved. Be careful that the bar is not set too high, as failing to achieve an objective can be disheartening and can be de-motivational. If you’re introducing the concept of SMARTER objectives it is probably better to set easy targets initially. There is nothing like a few successes to spur the team on to bigger and better things!

Smarter Objectives


4/ Motivation and recognition

We all need feedback. We all need to know we are doing a good job. Where deficiencies are recognised, they need to be addressed in a constructive manner and solutions found. Too many bosses spend too much of their time finding fault with their team members instead of finding them doing something right and let them know!

Motivation is a process not an event. You cannot hold a meeting and ‘do motivation’. Everything you do in your practice will have an effect on the motivation of the team, and that effect can be either positive or negative.

So what can you do in your practice to help ensure the needle on the motivation meter remains in the positive and not the negative? Right now you could carry out a critical, honest, objective audit as to how the practice team interfaces with leadership and you make it a priority to rectify any shortcomings. Secondly, you could establish an updated profile of your team members to establish what makes them tick as individuals and you could seek to match intrinsic motivators with their current needs. This is really part of the appraisal process. Individuals have mixed feelings about appraisals. Some say they have tried them and that they “didn’t work” and the very word seems to alienate others. What if we called them “Structured meetings to explore ways of developing team members, and by doing so, enhancing our business”? If you don’t develop your people at the pace they desire, they will usually find somebody else who will!


5/ Standard operating procedures (SOPs)

Although we may want to empower team members to deal with situations in the best way they feel fit, there are certain procedures, both clinical and non-clinical where we would wish every member of the team behaved in the same way. This is easy to understand if we have a patient with cardiac or respiratory arrest during a surgical procedure. We would hope everybody knows what the Standard Operating Procedure is in that situation. Other, non-clinical situations also lend themselves to having an SOP, for example:

• Admitting operations

• Dealing with complaints

• Pricing-up of hospitalised cases

• Clients who cannot afford to pay their bill

• Dispensing of medicines

• Waste disposal

SOPs should provide clear guidelines as to what action is taken under that specific topic and the best individual to draw up the draft SOP is the team member nearest that task. The draft SOP can then be circulated to the rest of the team for comments. Once the SOP has been refined it can be adopted and can take its place with the other SOPs in the Practice Manual. SOPs should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure the guidelines are still appropriate.

Team meetings6/ Practice meetings

Regular, frequent practice meetings are essential if the team is to behave in a coherent and focused manner and as practice teams grow in terms of numbers, meetings become more important. What are the essential elements of effective meetings?

• A chairperson whose skills include the ability to keep the meeting on track and at the same time encouraging all to participate in the discussion

• A pre-circulated agenda that participants can add to before the meeting

• Minutes of what was decided against each agenda point and more importantly

• Action points as to who is going to do what and by when

The size of the practice in terms of personnel and sites may well dictate the structure and frequency of meetings. In single site, one vet practices it may be possible to manage the business and have excellent internal communications by having ad hoc meetings. However in larger practices and in particular where there is more than one site involved, it will be necessary to have a structure in terms of how often meetings are held and who attends. Some clinical meetings may include nurses, receptionists and/or other team members. Management meetings may involve heads of departments, relying on representatives to feed information back to the rest of their teams.

In addition to meetings that are aimed specifically at management issues, whole practice outings that are held away from the practice can be excellent team builders.


7/ Internal marketing

It is vital to ensure you do your internal marketing before you promote services or products to your clients. Individuals who are expected to promote services and products must not only be conversant as to their features and functions, but more importantly their benefits. As veterinarians and scientists, we are understandably interested in features and functions. For example, in the case of a TPLO (tibial plateau levelling osteotomy), veterinarians are primarily interested in the surgical procedure itself and the challenges it offers, whereas the client is interested in the fact their dog will have a more rapid recovery, a greater chance of becoming less arthritic, better range of movement in the knee and a return to athletic or working activity, in other words the perceived benefits. Once all members of the team are familiar with the features and functions and above all the benefits of all the services and products we are asking them to promote, they will be comfortable doing so and the uptake from clients will increase.

When it comes to providing training on products as opposed to services, who better to involve in that training than representatives from the associated manufacturing companies. However, the practice should maintain a controlling influence on the content of the training and how it is conducted.



8/ Staff suggestion scheme

Having winning ideas is not the sole prerogative of the leader. All team members will have ideas from time to time that could prove to be winners. And who better, for example, to come up with an idea on how to improve the running of the kennel area that the person who works there all day, every day? Encouraging individuals to come up with ideas to improve the running of the business or working conditions has to be a good for the individual, the team and the business.

When introducing the scheme it should be explained to the entire practice team in terms of what is involved in submitting an idea and what feedback will be provided. The scheme itself should provide a mechanism to receive ideas in writing, providing details of what it is, how it will work, and whom it will involve. Above all, the benefits need to be explained; these can be financial or an enhancement in service to the clients, an improvement in working conditions, or a mixture of all three.


In return, there must be a commitment from management to get back to that team member with a response, within a fixed period of time, e.g. 3 weeks. That may be an outright acceptance of the idea, a request for further information or a suggestion of a meeting to move it forward or the idea may have to be declined. However, if that is to be the case, in fairness to the individual, valid reason for doing so must be provided.

A team is no stronger than its weakest link. You owe it to your patients, their owners, your employees and indeed yourself, to ensure you invest in your team, after all they are one of your biggest investments.


How to brainstorm



This article was kindly provided by Royal Canin.  If you would like printed copies of this material or other Focus publications please contact your Veterinary Business Manager:


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