Collaboration and Empowerment, a Pathway to Greater Freedom

Originally Published in “The Journal of the Michigan Dental Association”

When we’re presented with a problem we’re often inclined to try and work it out on our own. After all, everything that we accomplished during the course of dental school was achieved individually. We need to realize, however, that positive outcomes multiply exponentially as minds are added arithmetically. Like sticks in a bundle, more minds equal strength that is disproportionate to the quantity added.

I was watching reruns of “Mad Men” the other evening. There was an incident that brought to mind the power of collaboration. The copywriters were working together on an account and they were having difficulty coming up with ideas. During a discussion one of the people had an “aha” moment and was praised by their boss, Don Draper. His associate was embarrassed that he didn’t think of the idea and said that he was through with the other copywriter; they would work independently on the account. A week later, when they discussed what they had come up with, neither had any good ideas. As they sat there talking, a sort of brainstorming session occurred, and they were able to come up with some concepts for the promotion. They were prey to the power of the consortium.

I’m always amazed at the ideas that come forth during staff meetings when people work together. Many articles have been written and much research has been done on the concept of group interaction and the creativity of the united mind of a group. The best results seem to come from casual interaction and a debate style of discussion. The old rules of brainstorming, everyone is right, no idea is bad, appears not to work as well as a vigorous dialog discussing the problem at hand. Encourage staff members to interact. If you have a larger office or are building an office, take the employee flow through the office into consideration. Steven Jobs designed Pixar Headquarters in such a way as to force people to run into one another while they went about their daily tasks. Try not to separate the front desk staff from the operative staff. People tend to create cliques, discourage that by encouraging interactions between individuals. At staff meetings don’t let departments sit together. You and your office manager shouldn’t sit together either. Try to occupy a different space each time you have a meeting. Encourage open discussion; allow employees the freedom to discuss problems amongst themselves.

In partner with collaboration is empowerment, a term that is frequently overused. I wrote in a previous article about micromanagement. Trying to solve your dilemmas singlehandedly is a type of micromanagement. Allow your employees to make non critical decisions. Give a trusted employee, or better yet a team of employees, a budget and let them do all of the ordering for you. Perhaps even fabricate a bonus program for consistent savings while maintaining the quality of the materials ordered. I did this and was surprised at the savings that occurred. Do you need some new equipment or office machines? Let the people who are going to use that machinery decide what to purchase. Allowing your staff to perform certain tasks is empowering for the office and refreshing for the employee.

I read an article in the paper the other day, originally written for the CareerBuilder website. It was titled, “Are You Satisfied with Your Job?” One of the items on the checklist was, “You feel included in decision making and truly believe that your opinion matters.” Another was, “You feel positive about what the company is doing and that you really make a difference or contribution.” Employees that like their jobs and feel positive about their future perform better at their positions. People work for personal satisfaction and for money. You must pay your employees fairly; however, in all of the surveys that I have read, people don’t stay at jobs because of money, they stay because they are appreciated, they are challenged and they feel like their work counts.

Make your life easier by utilizing the capability of the people around you. Surround yourself with motivated, productive people and use the principles of collaboration and empowerment. People want to feel useful, they want to be included and they have important things to say, don’t underestimate the power of your employees.

About Steven C. Reynolds

Steven C. Reynolds, D.D.S., M.S.B.A., M.A.Ed. is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Midwestern University Dental Institute, and was formerly a Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry, in Detroit, Michigan. Dr. Reynolds owned a 4 doctor, 42 employee practice for 32 years before selling it and moving into academia. Dr. Reynolds received his dental degree from the University of Detroit, his M.S.B.A, in Medical and Dental Practice Administration, from Madonna University, in Livonia, Michigan and his M.A.Ed. from University of South Dakota in Vermillion, South Dakota. His teaching experience includes the practice management curriculum at the University of Detroit Mercy, attending the residents in that school’s AEGD program, as well as serving as Group Leader for the 3rd and 4th year dental students in the school’s dental clinic. He is currently a faculty member at Midwestern University Dental Institute, Arizona where he is a clinical care coordinator and teaches practice management as well as clinical pharmacology. He participated in the Evidence Based Dentistry Champions Conference hosted by the American Dental Association, in 2008. He is a member of the ADA as well as ADEA.
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