Find the formula for teamwork


It doesn't take a potion to tame the Jekyll and Hyde behaviors in your veterinary practice. Consider these solutions for a more harmonious veterinary team.

There's almost always daily drama in practice that at minimum distracts us—and at its worst, derails our day. This isn't to say that our coworkers are always at fault. It just means that any time you get two people together, there's likely to be the occasional spat. It helps to have a strategy for the dramas we face to better deal with them. Let's look at some surefire stress busters to deal with daily practice drama:

The Drama Dictator

The Drama Dictator is gossipy, passive-aggressive and always looking to stir things up in the workplace. The Drama Dictator is always the victim. Everything is always about her—or him. This person is temperamental and everyone works extra hard not to set this person off. And that's no way to enjoy your work. The Drama Dictators use their form of dramatic manipulation for self gain. They want more pay for less work, and more recognition without additional responsibility.

The solution: We all know a Drama Dictator. The first step is to tell your manager. If your boss supports or ignores the Drama Dictator, you still must have the conversation. Write down examples of the behavior you've witnessed and how it negatively affects the clinic and team. Your managers prefer examples instead of your personal feelings and opinions. Be prepared. After the conversation, one of two things will occur:

1. The situation will improve, even temporarily. Just remember, you may need to repeat the process. If you're having to repeat too often or you don't have managerial support, you need to decide how much drama is too much for you.

2. The Drama Dictator will test you. This may include creating severe drama for you to deal with. Be strong and resolute and know you're only trying to improve the team. When the Drama Dictator unloads on you, your manager should have no course but to terminate the Drama Dictator. If not, you may be stuck with the drama. At that point your leader has clearly indicated a preference for the Drama Dictator's chaos. In this case, it may be time to find another job.

The Bully

Super Tech, Practice Princess and Queen Bee are names often used to describe a practice bully. The bully uses her own experience and knowledge as well as inter-office politics to persecute her victims. The bully is often "in" with a manager, owner or other powerful person at the clinic who helps shield her from suspicion. The bully wants recognition, power and attention. These personalities target others to make themselves look better in the eyes of managers and owners. They often bolster their position by holding skills and knowledge close and not teaching or sharing those skills with other team members. They feel best when only they can solve a particular problem. For example, they're the only ones who know where a special drug is kept or how to place orders, or they claim clients prefer them.

The solution: Dealing with a bully requires two challenging steps. You must talk to the bully and you must talk to the boss. Be focused and calm before engaging in a conversation with the bully. This is a bully, after all. Note specific examples of behavior prepared beforehand that illustrate the issues you want to discuss. Tell the bully that you want a better relationship with him or her. You want the bully to communicate and interact with you and other team members positively. Provide examples and how you'd like to see the interaction change in the future. For example, perhaps a bully says, "I've been here a long time and that's how we do it." A positive change would be, "I appreciate your experience and understand that this way has been working. Because we've been having a few problems lately, I'd like you to consider this way of doing things that may help the team." With luck, she'll listen. If she blows up or dismisses you, talk to the owner immediately.

Regardless, you want to report the conversation to your practice owner. If the owner is on the bully's side, it's vital to provide specific examples. The owner needs to understand this is a serious problem that hurts team morale, patient care, client service and productivity. In most cases, once you bring the situation to light, it will improve. If it doesn't, don't hesitate to seek employment elsewhere. Life is too short to be bullied. (The "Sample conversation tree" offers an example of how to request and prepare for a discussion with the boss.)

The Gabby Gossip

Gabby heard the most salacious story about your coworker Anne. She wants to share it with you and get your opinion. Gabby's always complaining about your clinic, your practice manager and even your veterinarians. What do you do? Office gossip is a major contributor to daily practice drama. Who did what to whom and why often create chasms of conflict and cliques within a team. Not good.

The solution: Stay away from gossipers. Don't engage and don't listen. Gossipers' negative attitudes have a way of transferring to everyone who listens. Don't get infected. Besides, you don't want to be associated with a rumor that ends up getting someone in trouble. In really bad or persistent cases, it's up to you to report gossiping to your owner or manager.

Computer Cowards

These team members use technology as a shield for their subterfuge. Maybe you've received a snarky text message about a co-worker or boss. Perhaps you've seen a Facebook post about how crummy your clinic is. Many times the offending team member who wrote this is an exemplary employee. In fact, you can't recall hearing him or her ever having uttered a negative remark in person.

These staff members are hiding behind electronic communication to sabotage workplace morale. They diss others through email rather than confronting them face-to-face.

The solution: If you encounter harmony-busting comments, act fast to halt the negative flow. These subtle sarcastic statements separate team members and bolster the position of the Computer Coward. Otherwise, this will quickly escalate to Drama Dictator, Gossip and Bully status. Even worse, you'll be roped into accountability. If you ignore these negative behaviors, you're just as guilty as those who created it.

Start by telling the Computer Coward you'd rather discuss her comments in person. Tell her you think it may be inappropriate to talk like this without addressing the people accused. At the same time, you need to notify your boss. Depending on what's being said and where, there may be legal implications. Don't think that sarcastic or snarky remarks can't hurt. They do.

Staff training: potent medicine

During two decades as a practice owner, I learned that the best way to avoid drama was through regular structured communication. For my teams, weekly staff training was the solution. I learned that the real magic of training wasn't limited to learning medical information; it was the opportunity to communicate face-to-face with each other. We took time to air grievances on a weekly basis, preventing issues from building up and boiling over. Gathering as a group also allows you to share perspectives and explore many solutions. Team training also fosters a tribal mentality that leads to confidence and pride and protection of each other, our patients and clients. In this age of social media relationships and scarcity of human contact, regular team training is more important than ever.

Weekly staff training can create a safe space to discuss general issues that affect everyone. One caution: If a team member begins discussing specific personal issues or attacking someone or a group, stop the conversation and offer to discuss it privately later.

If you're experiencing workplace drama, give regular team training a try. It may be the solution your practice has been searching for.

Dr. Ernie Ward Jr. works at Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C. Catch Dr. Ward for live team training Sat., Nov. 2, at CVC San Diego. He'll help you with client communication skills and social media.

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