Stick together


Make your team cohesive.

One thing I look at during an on-site practice consultation is clients' bonding rate. I want to know how likely pet owners are to return to the practice after their first visits. Most team members can tell me how many new clients are coming in, which is important. But it's just as important—maybe even more so—to know how many of those clients stay. This shows your team's success rate.

Of course, better teams enjoy better success rates. And this relates to practice bonding, too, but in terms of you and your co-workers. The longer a group of employees works together at the same practice, the more skilled they become. And, as a result, the more profitable the practice becomes. But staff turnover in veterinary practices is relatively high.

You and your fellow team members don't typically earn the highest salaries, which is unfortunate. But while money can affect your desire to remain at a practice, it's not the most important reason you stay or leave. The biggest factor is job satisfaction. Following are nine ideas for making your team click and boosting your own—and your co-workers'—job satisfaction so you'll be happy to stay in one place.

Ask each other for feedback

An easy way to create a satisfying work environment is to share what's important to you and find out what matters to your colleagues. Give each employee a list of work-environment traits at your next staff meeting. Ask everyone to rank the traits in order of importance. Here are some examples of what to include on the list: Credit for work done, respect, flexible hours, quality training, and so on. When you see what your colleagues value, try to help provide it. Can't make a team-wide assessment happen? Start by asking a few people. Even just one or two changes could make a big difference.

Quarter your compliments

Here's another simple but effective idea. Place four quarters in your left pocket every morning. Every time you offer a genuine compliment to another team member, move a quarter from your left pocket to your right. The goal is to switch all four quarters to your right pocket every night before you go home. (No cheating by spending the quarters.) This activity reminds you about the importance of positive reinforcement.

Participate in group think

If you come up with an idea for improving your practice, solicit the input of as many other team members as possible. If appropriate, you might even form a committee to research your idea and report back to the owner or manager. This works especially well whenever your practice is trying to decide whether to incorporate a new service or change a policy. When the whole team participates in the decision-making process, the adoption of such changes is much more successful and beneficial.


Did you offer more dental cleanings this month than any other month? Did you increase your number of new clients or average client transaction beyond expectations? Did a client send a note that said something nice about an employee? Take this opportunity to celebrate. Bring in a cake, get together for lunch, or hang a congratulatory poster. Also consider celebrating team members' anniversaries and accomplishments such as graduations or engagements.

Learn what's expected

Satisfied team members know their professional goals and work to achieve them. You're not a mind reader (although you might come close after checking out "A Wink, a Smile, a Nod"), so you must ask your managers what's expected of you if you want to do your job well. If you don't have an up-to-date job description, ask for one. Take your routine performance reviews seriously by proactively identifying your strengths and areas for improvement. A simple but effective tool: Hold "rounds" every morning so the day's plan is clear and everyone knows what he or she needs to do.

Discuss amongst yourselves

Ask team members for ideas, then talk about how those ideas could lead to better client service, enhance patient care, and benefit the team and practice overall. Show respect and appreciation for team members who take time to share their thoughts. Encourage others' contributions, and make some of your own.

Get trained for success

In most work situations, there's a direct cause-and-effect relationship between lack of training and low team bonding. When you're not properly trained, you're set up for failure. If you feel like you haven't received sufficient education about how to do your job, ask for additional instruction. When you know the ropes at your practice, supplement your knowledge by attending CE conventions. CVC East in Baltimore presents excellent opportunities for team members. There's Firstline Live on April 24, and I'm facilitating the Veterinary Economics Managers' Retreat on April 23 (for more information, visit

Enjoy each other

I was at a practice recently where things were getting tense. Suddenly, the practice owner pulled out a water pistol and started shooting employees. They all ran to their hiding places, pulled out their own water pistols, and returned fire. Another practice I work with gives employees a Nerf gun when they're hired and tells them that when they get mad at someone, they should "shoot" the person. It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you have fun.

How about taking a team outing to a paintball park? Or hauling that decrepit, much-loathed computer outside and letting everyone bash it with a baseball bat? Create a smile board with funny pictures, silly stories, and happy faces and put it in the treatment area where all your co-workers can enjoy it. Ask team members to bring in their baby pictures, post them anonymously, then try to match the pictures to the employees. The ideas are endless. Have a good time—you spend far too much time at work not to.

Set a shining example

You want to respect your co-workers, and you want respect in return. Whether you're an official team leader or an entry-level employee, set a respectable standard. For example, if you come in late or miss staff meetings, you communicate that punctuality isn't important to you. Likewise, leaving a room dirty or walking by a soiled cage and not cleaning it up also sends a dangerous message. What's more, you're showing your team members and managers that you don't value the practice. So be a role model others can follow. Best yet, you'll be proud, and self-respect is one of the most important parts of professional success.

I hope these ideas sound doable to you. At the very least, I hope they get you thinking about ways your team can be more like a team.

Mark Opperman, CVPM, owns VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo., and is hospital management editor of Veterinary Economics magazine. Send comments to

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