A Team Wins Playing 1-On-1 by Dr. Tim Goodheart

A Team Wins Playing 1-On-1 

Learn how crafting regular one-on-one meetings with staff can make a world of difference in your practice

by Dr. Tim Goodheart

Psst! Doctors! Want to tremendously improve relationships and communication with your staff? And better yet, have it not cost you a dime? That’s right, nothing: no travel, no books to buy, no classes to attend, no seminars to pay for. You’re probably saying, “And the moon is made out of cheese, too, fella!”

Thousands of business, leadership and management books are published each year, most claiming to hit upon some new secret to instant success. But the No. 1 most powerful management tool to improving relationships and communication with your staff is actually no secret and hasn’t changed in decades. It’s one-on-one (OOO) meetings. The OOO is not sexy, it’s not glitzy, it’s not instant and it’s not a new idea. It won’t wow your friends at the next conference or party you attend. It is, however, extraordinarily effective. And to top it off, there’s a great side benefit I’ll tell you about.

What is the OOO?

The OOO is a regularly scheduled meeting with each staff member, regardless of position or number of hours worked. Each team member is deserving. The primary focus of the meeting is the team member. Ideally, this meeting is held for 30–40 minutes, no less frequently than every eight to 10 weeks.

Why is this meeting such a powerful tool? Because the strength of a work relationship between the employee and me (the employer) will depend on:

    • The frequency with which you and I discuss work issues.
    • And perhaps most vitally, the frequency with which we discuss work issues that are important to you (the employee).

I know many will say, “I just can’t do that. It’s not my personality.” Or, “I’m just too pressed for time as it is.” Or, “I have my front desk person check on things.” The problem with those excuses, however valid, is that you’re fighting a losing battle. It’s a battle of several thousands of years of biology, which says we will put the most trust and faith in relationships with those with whom we talk most frequently about the issues with which we’re personally most concerned. Frequency and focus of communication are the takeaways here: How often do we talk, and how often do we talk about what’s important to the team member? This is the very foundation of trusting relationships, including work relationships.

A second thing often said is, “But I do talk to my staff—all the time! We talk in the hallway and we talk at the front desk every day.” Those conversations are certainly important, but they are casual conversations and an OOO is not that. While not rigidly formal or formatted, OOOs have a specific structure and framework. OOOs are not freeform and not about chatting; they aren’t meant to take the place of the daily coaching and feedback conversations with staff.

The idea of the OOO is to remove any barrier to communication that holds you back with your team. Do that, and effective time can then be spent where it’s needed—on the actual work. Many teams are ineffective, not because they don’t know the work to be done, but because they’re not good at communicating what they’re doing, how well they’re getting it done, what help they need, etc.

Basics of the OOO

The primary focus is on the team member— not you, not your work, not the rest of the staff or waterfall issues. (Waterfall issues are those things that cover the entire office, and a team meeting would be the correct place to discuss those things.) This is specifically about the individual employee. Always remember that if you end a OOO meeting having talked more than your staff member, then it probably wasn’t done correctly!

Roughly one-third of the meeting should be for you and your coaching, and two-thirds of the meeting is for the employee and his or her primary focus.

Taking notes during the meeting and doing follow-up are vital and will help propel future OOOs.

While the OOO should be scheduled regularly—before or after work, or over a lunch period—I recommend not scheduling it on Monday mornings, at the end of the day or the end of the workweek. At those times, the temptation will be to cut the meeting short or rush to get it over.

Your staff will put as much importance on these meetings as you do, and the meetings should rarely if ever be missed. Few things short of an earthquake should cause you to miss one. If a conflict is unavoidable, reschedule quickly and soon. I don’t like to have more than two or three in a week, and never back to back, because I want to be laser-focused.

These meetings should never be in public. If you have an office, then certainly that’s the best place. Don’t use conference rooms, because you don’t want interruptions or wandering ears. Strict privacy is not necessary, but you do want your staff to feel comfortable talking.

Preparation for each meeting shouldn’t be overly time-consuming, provided you’re keeping good notes from meeting to meeting. It’s as straightforward as asking yourself these five questions:

    1. What notes do I need to follow up on from the last OOO with this employee?
    2. What specifics do I need to communicate?
    3. What positive feedback can I give?
    4. What adjusting feedback can I give?
    5. What tasks or projects is this staff member now ready to have delegated to them?

By reviewing and noting these five questions before each OOO, you’re ready to head into the meeting.

I use a series of questions to help prompt the conversation and discussion. These are very open-ended questions, and I don’t ask each one at each OOO. You may have things you prefer to have on your list. A few examples are:

    • What projects have you been working on?
    • Any specific requests of me?
    • Any expectations I’m not fulfilling?
    • Any situations you’d like more of my involvement with?
    • Any situations that I need to let go of more?
    • Any worries or concerns?
    • How are things with your family?
    • What areas of your work are you most confident in?
    • What areas of your work are you least confident in?

The conversation is the key. The main goal is to get the staff member engaged in talking about work issues that are on their mind and specific to them. In effect, there aren’t any “wrong” topics. If it’s a concern to them or preventing effective work, then it’s a concern for you, too.

Two things that I virtually promise you will occur. In the beginning, when you announce to your team, “I’ll be meeting with each of you for half an hour. It’s a one-on-one kind of thing and we’ll have them on a regular, scheduled basis,” your staff is guaranteed to think two things: one, that someone messed up and something is wrong; two, it’s just some fad that will stop after a short while.

OOOs are powerful. Do them for a while and then stop, and staff will quickly assume that whatever they’ve been telling you, you didn’t like. That brings the risk that your staff will walk on eggshells around you in the future. Start and stop the OOOs at your own risk!

Other OOO benefits

Here are a few other things that are certain to occur. The first few OOOs will be uneventful. They’ll most likely run long. The staff member(s) will probably have a deer-in-the-headlights look. After all, probably the only other time that you as orthodontist/boss have sat down and talked with them specifically and individually about work, they were most likely in trouble! They just aren’t used to individual face-to-face time with you, the boss.

You’ll likely go through one or two rounds of meetings and perhaps wonder why you’re doing this. This is the exact time you must be persistent and not give up, because then a transformation starts to occur. Fewer individual complaints will hit the office grapevine. Team meetings will contain fewer individual complaints and worries. Communication will be less difficult and more effective. You now have a container that both you and your team members can put issues in, and the resource to regularly take those issues and talk effectively about them. You’ll be putting out fewer fires. You’ll be spending less time thinking about communication and more time communicating and accomplishing the work.

So, there it is. One of the most powerful management tools known, and it’s available to every one of us. And what’s the secondary benefit I mentioned that you’ll get from OOOs? Recall that monster called the “annual review”—you know, that meeting you’re supposed to have with each staff member annually, the one you hate more than Mrs. Jones’ 10th denture adjustment? OOOs make the challenges of this annual meeting almost vanish.

By having four to six meetings throughout the year with each staff member and taking great notes at each meeting, your annual review is almost done. Everything is right there for you, in your OOO notes, because you've essentially been doing short-term reviews all year. All you need to do is compile the information contained in your OOO meeting notes and you’re ready for annual review. How great is that?

My last thought to those who insist that they just have no time or interest for regular, individual meetings with each staff member: Going back decades, when the managers and leaders of companies, small or large, are asked what their most valuable resource is, close to 100% of the time the answer will be “our people.” Don’t you think it’s time to stop the lip service about the importance of “our people,” put more focus on your team and build better work relationships with them by using the power of the OOO management tool in your office?

Author Bio
Tim_Goodheart Dr. Tim Goodheart, a member of Dentaltown’s editorial advisory board, has owned a private practice in Raytown, Missouri, since 1994.

After graduating from the University of Missouri—Kansas City School of Dentistry, Goodheart completed a general practice residency at the VA Medical Center in Kansas City. He also earned an MBA from the Oklahoma State University Spears School of Business.
He is a fellow of the Academy of General Dentistry, a member of the American Dental Association and, as “Timmy G aka Nowhere Man,” an administrator and frequent poster on Dentaltown’s message boards. Email: tgoodheart@goodheartdental.com
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