Forget "us vs. them"


Stop thinking of employees outside your group as rivals. When you break down these barriers, you'll reap the rewards.

Greg Paprocki

Veterinary team members' turf wars often mimic fights between dogs and cats—or cats and mice. It's time to unite with your natural enemies for the good of the practice, patients, and your own well-being. Check out these three common rivalries, along with ideas for how to make working together a real treat.

Front vs. back

The receptionists and technicians are constantly irritated with each other. The technicians don't respond to the receptionists' request for help and the front desk requests it at inappropriate times.

Starve alone

"The phone is ringing off the hook. Where's the receptionist?"

"A client has a question, but there's not a technician to be found."

Feast together

Start meeting in the middle with this example of how to handle phone shoppers. Receptionists initially field these important calls. When a potential client asks, "How much is your spay?" the next step in a practice without proverbial walls is for the receptionist to forward the call to a surgical technician. Why? While a receptionist smiles and waves at clients standing at the desk or watches line No. 2 blink with another in-coming call, the phone shopper only gets half her attention. And if you ask to call back later, you lose the impact and, probably, the potential client. So a technician who can fully focus on the caller should explain the procedure and the excellent medical service you offer, then give the price.

When should a receptionist avoid asking for help from technicians in the back? When the front-desk area is slow. Even if the front desk is busy, receptionists should ask long-term clients with nonemergencies if they can call back to answer questions later in the day.

Established vs. new

Team members who've been with the practice for years think new employees don't understand what's best for the clinic. The so-called rookies just wish they could feel included.

Starve alone

"This new approach is great, but these washed-up employees won't try it."

"This is the way we've always done it."

Feast together

Long-term employees, consider how building bonds with the recently hired offers an opportunity for the practice—and you. When you train new employees correctly, they become strong, productive team members. Plus, teaching them about your practice's culture will likely remind you of how much you appreciate your own job. And, if you listen, you might just learn a better way.

The good of the practice: Both entrenched and recent employees must focus on this phrase. All team members need to work on improving the clinic and its client and patient care. With that in mind, you must realize that sometimes a new way truly is better. Other times, it's just new and may even be a backward step, which is something just-hired employees need to remember. When fresh ideas are put on the table, the whole team—both veteran and green employees—should consider them objectively.

Morning vs. evening

Members of the early shift leave feeling as if they played catch up all day because the late shift slacked. Late workers arrive and wonder why no one cleaned up. Neither group talks to each other, so client and patient care gets muddled during the clock-in and clock-out transition.

Starve alone

"The filing never gets done before I arrive in the evening."

"He didn't get the rooms stocked before he left for the night."

Feast together

Put simply, each shift needs to communicate with the other. As you switch between day and night shifts or even just split shifts, talk to all your co-workers about what's been done and what still needs to get accomplished. It's particularly important to share details about patients and whether any client communications need to be completed. Consider overlapping shifts by 30 minutes or an hour to give employees time to discuss the important details.

Build even more success by establishing zone schedules and responsibilities. These would indicate which duties receptionists, assistants, and technicians are to complete before going home. For example, morning receptionists should pull files for the next day's appointments and afternoon receptionists should confirm the next day's visits with clients before leaving for the day. Another example: First-shift assistants should stock exam rooms and second-shift should empty waste baskets. This lets each group of employees know what's expected and makes it easier to implement consequences if the jobs aren't finished.

Facing a practice rivalry between doctors and staff or older and younger generations? Click here for suggestions about how to come together. If your team has fixed a lack of teamwork, blog about it—and maybe win an iPod Touch through the Firstline Challenge. To learn more about how to share your team-building tactics—and how to win—visit

Debbie Allaben Gair, CVPM, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and owner of Bridging the Gap in Sparta, Mich.

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