Want to Build a Great Team? Give Them What They Want!

May 6, 2017
Maureen McKinney

If you want your team to be great, then consider what you can give them instead of the other way around.

Great leaders expect great things from their teams, and veterinary practice owners and managers are no exception.

When thinking about what constitutes a great team, many veterinary practice leaders think only about the traits of individual team members that make the group more successful.

Do they have good rapport with clients? Are their technical skills top notch? Do they support each other? And so on.

But the reality is that veterinary teams are comprised of individuals with different skill sets, varying levels of training and unique personalities. Some may be great with clients but not so good at handling cats. Others may be great with unruly pets but can’t look a client in the eye.


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The trick to building a great team is to look at things from the team’s perspective. What can you do for them that will help them succeed? Here’s what we recommend.

Define expectations…

Every practice should have defined mission and vision statements, and these should be communicated clearly to the team. If team members understand the core values of the practice, they can model their behavior and attitude on those values. And don’t forget: Teams look to practice leadership to see whether they are behaving according to the practice’s vision.

…and offer opportunities.

Leaders are responsible for the professional development of the people they lead, and the best way to facilitate that is to give them challenging opportunities that allow them to grow. Limited budgets often preclude practices from sending team members to national or regional conferences, but regular lunch-and-learn sessions at the practice can foster professional development in many areas. Even having a less experienced team member shadow a more experienced one provides the opportunity for education and shows the team that leadership wants to help them grow.

Be transparent...

Clarity of goals and objectives is a must for success in any business. It allows the team to focus on what's important, which increases their effectiveness and helps them progress in knowledge and skills. Teams don't necessarily expect the leader to know the exact path, but they do expect them to be able to define the destination clearly.

…and honest.

There are times when leaders cannot tell certain things to their teams. Teams understand this, but that doesn't mean leadership has to lie. Lying kills trust and will make the team doubt their leadership going forward.

Trust is a key component of leadership, and building trust takes time. It requires honesty, communication and keeping your word. Leaders who fail to keep their commitments quickly lose any loyalty and support their team was willing to offer. On the other hand, team members who trust the leaders in their practice are more willing to work together for the betterment of the practice and more open to admitting to their weaknesses and asking for help.

Offer consistent praise…

Praise is one of a leader's most powerful tools, yet many use it sparingly. When people do a good job, they expect their work to be acknowledged by their boss. Letting your team know when they are doing a good job helps boost morale and keeps the team on track for improvement. And praise doesn't need to be over the top; it can often just be a simple "thank you" or "nice job, well done."

Practice leaders might also consider implementing an employee recognition program that gives the team something concrete to strive for on a day-to-day basis. A small token like a gift card or reimbursement for lunch can help improve performance and boost morale.

…and constructive feedback.

We all make mistakes, but criticism rarely helps to fix them. To improve performance, teams need timely, constructive feedback and coaching when they do something wrong. If a task is not performed up to par, let the team member know, but do it in a way that allows them to learn and improve so that they will know how to avoid the mistake next time.

As with praise, consistency in giving feedback is key. Each employee expects and deserves to be treated the same, and they expect consistent input — what they did well yesterday also should be perceived as a good job today. Inconsistent leaders create stress among their teams, which is detrimental to team performance.

Seek their input…

Teams don't just want to be there to carry out instructions; they want to be able to have some input, some involvement in creating the plans that bring success to the practice. After all, the team has a bird’s eye view on how the practice is running. That doesn't mean that leaders should defer to the team when making decisions. Instead, to increase engagement and commitment among team members, leaders need to listen to suggestions.

…and act on it.

Many veterinarians and practice managers wonder why their team shows them little respect, yet these same leaders are not demonstrating respect to their teams. The payback for being respectful can be immense, and showing respect is as simple as listening to your team, asking them what they think and then taking action based on their input.


Building a solid practice team takes a great deal of effort on the part of leadership. It requires an understanding that the team is made up of individuals with unique goals. It’s easier than you think to build negativity and animosity, and regaining lost trust is an uphill battle. So remember, if you’re not looking at things from the team’s perspective, you might just end up watching them walk out the door.