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The success of your physical therapy practice lives entirely with your staff.
Productive, cohesive, trusting physical therapy practice teams:
- Deliver consistently higher patient care
- Are dramatically more productive and profitable
- Confer long-term value to your business
In the business world, teamwork gets talked about a lot. But it’s not always simple for busy private practice owners to know teamwork when they see it. Sometimes, the path to great teamwork starts by knowing what it isn’t.
Here are 6 common signs your staff isn’t functioning like an effective team:
- They don’t collaborate
In your practice, everyone has a job to do. A well-organized practice has clearly defined job descriptions and operations manuals for every role within your business. A well-run practice also provides a clear structure that connects those roles, for communication, accountability, efficiency and low-error workflow from one individual to the next.
Structure enhances collaboration. Pioneering research on teamwork shows structure is one of the core conditions that enables teams to thrive, giving team members a framework within which to share ideas, benefit from a diversity of skills and perspectives, and solve problems, together.
- They work exclusively in factions
Sub-teams within a practice staff are natural, and a part of working collaboratively. Clinicians and PT aides working closely together in treatment will naturally align, just as front desk staff will. But when there isn’t an overarching sense of teamwork that unites them, an Us vs. Them mentality can take root, bringing with it misunderstandings, conflicts, and resentments.
As the practice owner, it’s your job to lead your entire team, and that starts with unifying them around shared goals and vision. It also falls to your leadership to ensure staffers within each sphere of your practice understand the work that other team members are doing, and the value it delivers to your mission.
- They place blame
Think about how your staff responds when things go wrong. Are they quick to blame others? Do they get defensive, make excuses, look for scapegoats?
A culture of blame is a clear signal that your team members:
- Don’t trust each other
- Are afraid of the repurcussions that come with taking responsibility for errors
- Don’t see accountability as a valued part of performance
Your leadership means everything here. You set the tone and the practice in your workplace, by owning up to mistakes and treating errors like the opportunities for growth that they are. Have some perfectionist tendencies that make this tough? You’re not alone. I wrote recently about the Perfectionist PT, and how their drive for perfect makes the job of practice owner even tougher than it already is.
- In meetings, a few people do all the talking
Too many practice owners think teamwork is all about meetings. Well-run meetings are incredibly useful for teams. But meetings don’t MAKE teams. To foster a strong team, you have to dig deeper, into the structure, culture, and values you establish in your practice.
Meetings can be a time for owners and managers to assess teamwork. If your meetings are dominated by only a few voices, that’s a sign not everyone feels empowered to speak. Your job is to create a meeting environment that encourages candor, respect and vulnerability:
- Give everyone the opportunity to speak
- Encourage the free flow of ideas—but ask that people not interrupt one another
- Show gratitude and appreciation for your team’s participation
Practice owners: Make sure the top talker isn’t you. As the practice owner, your voice carries a lot of weight. Use it—but don’t overuse it.
- A handful of individuals carry most of the workload
When a practice staff is operating effectively as a team, workload is balanced, and spread evenly among all members. If one or two stand-out employees are shouldering the bulk of the work, that’s a telltale signal your staff isn’t the truly functional team it could be. A few core factors make all the difference in re-setting this imbalance:
- Well-defined roles and responsibilities for each team member
- An operational structure that pulls those individual roles together
- Clear, measurable milestones that your team can work together to achieve
Practice owners, take note: one of these overloaded workers is likely to be YOU. If you’re holding on to a lot of the daily work in your practice—clinical or administrative—you’re holding your staff back from becoming the cohesive, dynamic team you want and need them to be.
- Things fall apart when you’re not around
There’s no more striking signal of a staff that isn’t functioning effectively as a team. If your constant presence is required to keep your practice running smoothly, to avoid a steady stream of mistakes, to keep confusion and conflicts from erupting, you don’t have a team at all. You have a group of individuals who lack the information and structure they need to do their jobs well, and to make decisions in your absence.
Instead of relying on process, they’re relying on YOU. And that’s an uncomfortable, unsustainable, less profitable place for a practice owner to be.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of the obstacles that practice owners face in building strong teams. (I’ll come back to this topic again.) Team building is one of the most challenging endeavors a business owner faces. When done well, it has a transformative impact on your practice’s current profitability and long-term value, as well as on your own quality of life.
A thriving physical therapy practice combines great people with great processes. It’s your job to find—and manage both. Schedule your free, 30-minute Laser Focus Call to troubleshoot your hiring and leadership challenges.