How to Get Medical Practice Staff to Get Along

June 15, 2013

When you have two dynamic sets of employees at your practice who struggle to get along, what do you do? Here are tips to identify the problems and resolve them quickly.

Several years ago, I worked at a start-up technology company. There were a myriad of people there from scientists, each equipped with a Ph.D., to lab technicians to manufacturing staff to the sales and marketing group. When you get a group of passionate and dynamic people in the same room, sparks can fly and tempers can flare, and they did. The hours were very long, and we often worked six days or seven days a week. So, how did we manage to not point fingers, not claim responsibility, and get a great product out the door?  Our CEO recognized the potential for the "us" versus "them" syndrome. Sure, we had it in the beginning when there were only eight of us and there was zero structure, but as the company grew, everyone knew exactly what was expected of them, and they delivered.

If you have a front-office staff and a back-office staff or billing department that you find bickering or finger pointing, it's time to draw the line and get some definition of responsibility.

Oftentimes, the employees who are creating this environment are doing so out of necessity. They focus on the entire company's internal problems, as if those issues were their responsibility, instead of providing the excellent customer service or product improvement that you need. They are also in the mindset that they are doing the right thing by pointing out all of the problems because they are passionate about the company and really want what is best for it. Over time, these problems can escalate into flat out fighting, gossiping, blaming, and finger-pointing. This is not a healthy culture for anyone to work in. You will most likely lose your valued staff members if this continues.

The best way to handle situations like this is to watch for the signs that this kind of battle is about to begin, and then change the focus to something else other than each other. Groups need to find common ground that everyone can relate to and both sides need to understand what is at stake and how they can work together to achieve a goal. Reward the groups together instead of separately, showing that you are all a single team. Create shared metrics and hold all parties accountable for reaching them.

Oftentimes people who are "acting out" are really "acting in." They feel lost in their role in the company and just want to contribute everything they can. This happens frequently after a shift in responsibility, when acquiring another company or department or when new employees join the company. Defining roles within the company is one way to help calm the souls who just want to help.

Another way is absolute transparency. I'm working with a great CEO right now. His motto is: "Mess Up. Fess Up". It works! Really well, actually. No one feels threatened or afraid to make a mistake, so productivity is high. Everyone is on an equal plane, so there is no one better than another. The makings of great clockwork are when people feel comfortable and confident if they make a mistake. Everyone makes them, so why not make the process not hurt so much? If there is constantly someone making a lot of mistakes, this might be a training issue and that will need to be identified.

Creating a single team attitude within a group of amazing and dynamic employees is possible, and necessary for your medical practice. Remember, as Abraham Lincoln said: "A house divided against itself cannot stand."