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Three Steps to Create Your Office Dream Team

The Doctor's Office, November 6, 2008

Effective teams are made up of individuals who take accountability for their behavior. Team members take action not because they should, but because they truly want to.

Such motivation is possible only in an environment in which employees feel valued and respected and, in turn, hold their colleagues, manager, and practice in the same esteem. If you struggle with getting your staff members to work in harmony, consider the following three critical steps:

1. Go for understanding. Sally Gardiner, CPC, RTC, a certified professional coach and trainer in Gladstone, OR, is frequently called on to help practices create more peaceful, productive relationships throughout the office. Much of her teaching is based in Choice Theory, a philosophy founded by William Glasser, MD, which is based on the premise that no one can control another person and that everything we do involves choice. Our behaviors are a result of the choices we make to get our needs met. If people understand the needs driving behaviors, they will begin to treat others differently.

According to Choice Theory, behavior is driven by one of five basic human needs: survival, love and belonging, freedom, power, and fun. "Everybody behaves to get those needs met," Gardiner says. For example, consider a workplace going through an uncertain time, perhaps with the possibility of layoffs or a buyout. "People's need for survival will rise to the surface because they're wondering if they're going to have a job," she says. "There will be a lot of behavior coming up that could be judged as disruptive and needing to be dealt with."

Rather than judge others based on their behavior, trying to understand the needs that are driving behavior will support more effective action. For managers, the best way to minimize fear-driven negative behavior is to listen to employees' concerns and arm them with as much information as possible to help them make sound decisions, Gardiner says.

2. Define and communicate expectations. It's never a good idea to ignore negative behavior. Beginning with the interview process, practice expectations should be made very clear to employees. "When we interview, I really describe the kind of person we're looking for. And when I do reference checks, I say, ‘Here's our environment. How's this person going to fit?' " says Paula M. Comm, MA, LCPC, CADC, administrator of Perakis, Resis, Woods & Associates Behavioral, LLC (PRA), a Chicago-area psychiatric practice. Upon hire, employees sign a confidentiality agreement and receive an employee handbook, which includes a page describing expected conduct and behavior.

Two of the main qualities PRA seeks in candidates are respectfulness and trust—the lack of which led to the walkout employee's demise. PRA has also saved several employees from a similar fate. For example, when one longtime employee started becoming rude with patients and showing other signs of being burned out from the front desk, Comm intervened several times and eventually suggested she take a position in the back office.

"It can be really hard to take the brunt of patients when they call in. It may be worse in our field [psychiatry]. After a certain amount of years, you just can't do it anymore," she says. "We thought if not faced with patients, she wouldn't be as agitated, and it worked."

3. Reward desired behavior. PRA employees are well-paid and receive generous annual—and sometimes impromptu—bonuses, Comm says. "I just gave each of them $100 last month in a surprise envelope, which made half of them cry, because we had a great month and wanted to have them all share in it. I think they have a passion for this practice because they know this practice's success is their success."

Although lower-budget rewards, such as a $5 gift card or employee of the month certificate, can also be motivating, the most effective reward system requires an investment of time, Cordes says. "A lot of PAHCOM members are ultimately motivated by their feelings for their patients, the work they do, and the people they work with," she says.

"People really want to feel like they connect, and if you give them the feeling that they are valued and connected and important, that is reward in itself. They become intrinsically motivated to do well," Comm says.

This article was adapted from one that originally ran in the November issue of The Doctor's Office, a HealthLeaders Media publication.