Developing an effective veterinary team is one of the most important parts of running a successful practice. When your team is satisfied at work, and have the tools to do their jobs correctly and efficiently, they’re able to be productive, build positive relationships with clients, better cope with stress, and make meaningful contributions – all of which have a direct impact on a business’s performance.
Investing in your employees, particularly when it comes to their well-being, can lead to increased resilience, improved employee engagement, reduced sick-time, and better overall productivity.
What makes an effective veterinary team?
There are many different ways to define what success looks like for your veterinary staff. However, highly effective teams generally share some common characteristics.
- Communicate effectively with one another
- Have the tools and information they need to do their jobs well
- Are efficient and productive
- Find satisfaction at work
- Avoid burnout and attrition
- Are highly engaged
- Provide excellent customer service
- Provide safe, competent veterinary care
- Contribute to the growth of the practice
A veterinary team is composed of people who play different roles but must work together to achieve common goals. These may include a veterinarian, practice manager, receptionist, veterinary technician, and support staff. Depending on the size of your practice, you may have many people working in each of these positions. While their responsibilities, skills, and areas of expertise are distinct, they share a common mission to provide the best possible care for each animal that comes through your doors.
Creating an effective team involves more than simply hiring the right people. It requires you, as the practice owner or manager, to create a work environment where your staff can be at their best individually and as a unit. Here are some ways you can build and nurture a highly effective team at your veterinary practice.
Communication is essential to developing an effective team. Good communication is consistent and multidirectional. This means communication from practice leadership is equally important as the communication between team members. It is important to not only equip your team with the information they need, but also to seek constant feedback from your staff and open the lines of communication between employees.
Conduct regular team meetings so that the practice manager can share any relevant updates or changes in policy with the staff. Clearly communicate your clinic’s objectives and priorities so everyone is united around a common goal. Also use these meetings as an opportunity to discuss any ongoing issues and brainstorm new ideas. Take the time to elicit feedback from your team members; employees who feel they have a voice at work are more likely to take an active role in problem solving. Prepare an agenda for each meeting and share it ahead of time, giving employees the opportunity to add any topics they wish to address. An agenda will help keep the conversation on track and ensure the meetings are productive.
Communicate that each member of your team plays a vital role in the practice by recognizing employee contributions or achievements. Highlight patient success stories and emphasize the ways in which your employees made a difference to that animal and its owner. Share client feedback about their experiences at your clinic. Celebrating your team’s successes will help keep them motivated.
Teams are effective when every member knows their role and takes ownership of their responsibilities. Delegate responsibilities and document those assignments so that each member of your team understands what is expected of them. This will also help you avoid wasteful duplication of efforts, disputes about who’s responsible for what, or tasks falling through the cracks. At the same time, you may wish to cross-train members of your staff on different roles within their scope of practice. This will not only allow your employees to grow their skills, but will also allow them to better understand their fellow team members’ needs, and equip them to pitch in wherever extra help is needed.
Delegating responsibilities rather than micromanaging is also important for building morale. Veterinary technicians go through years of schooling and specialized training to earn their credentials. If a veterinarian insists on doing the jobs a vet tech can do, it can be demoralizing. On the other hand, when employees are given appropriate autonomy, they take ownership over their work and become more motivated to find creative solutions. Delegating builds trust.
Burnout is a major problem in the veterinary industry. A 2017 AVMA study found that 49% of veterinary technicians experienced moderate to severe burnout in their careers – and that’s prior to the stressors brought on by the covid-19 pandemic. Burnout is associated with all kinds of health problems and an increase in employee turnover. Veterinary teams cannot function at a high level while experiencing burnout. Even the best employees can become unmotivated and fail to perform their best when they become physically and emotionally exhausted.
Veterinary practice managers can fight burnout by supporting employees’ work-life balance. Encourage employees to take their paid time off and to take their scheduled breaks. Examine your staffing levels to see if hours might be redistributed to allow for more coverage during busier times. Promote a healthy culture of psychological safety and mutual respect. And, connect your staff with physical and mental health resources to support their wellbeing. For example, you might offer gym or yoga memberships as an employee benefit. Or, you might want to provide information about how to access counselors and other professionals who deal with compassion fatigue and burnout.
What is psychological safety? The Center for Creative Leadership defines it as “a shared belief held by members of a team that others on the team will not embarrass, reject, or punish them for speaking up.” Numerous studies, including some by the Harvard Business Review, Google, and Microsoft have identified psychological safety as a critical factor in developing strong and effective teams in the workplace.
In psychologically safe work environments, employees are encouraged to ask questions, make suggestions, and admit mistakes. As a result, business teams produce more innovative ideas, build stronger relationships, and get more done.
You can help to create a culture of psychological safety by modeling the kind of vulnerability and honesty you wish to see in your staff. Set an example by admitting to your own gaps in knowledge. Or, use your own missteps as teachable moments. Create a culture of belonging by recognizing your employees’ individual strengths and contributions to the team. Display an openness to constructive criticism and new ideas by seeking feedback and practicing active listening. And, always speak respectfully to your staff, particularly when speaking about another employee. Nothing erodes morale faster than gossip and negativity. If you become aware of a conflict or problematic behavior, address it as soon as possible in a way that aims for a solution rather than judgment or shaming.
Invest in Professional Development
Veterinary teams thrive when each member of the team has the training and support they need to reach their full potential. Giving your employees the chance to learn new skills and take on leadership roles can help your team be more successful. Each employee’s professional development plan should be based on their individual strengths, interests, and career goals. Professional development opportunities might include attending an industry conference, attending a special training or workshop, volunteering at a community event, continuing education, or a promotion to a more advanced position.
Of course, crafting an effective team isn’t just about supporting individual employees; your employees must be able to support one another and work together in order to be effective. It may sound like a cliche, but the importance of teamwork simply cannot be overstated. When your team works together, the business functions more smoothly and efficiently. If your team is disjointed and suffers from poor communication, the practice will suffer too. Inefficient offices lead to poor customer service and, ultimately, substandard care.
Highly effective teams are composed of members who trust and respect each other. Veterinary work can be stressful and emotionally draining, so it is crucial that staff members be able to rely on one another during difficult times.
To encourage teamwork among your veterinary staff, consider some team-building events. Beyond your regular staff meetings, you might organize a dinner or retreat for your team where they can spend time with each other outside of work. Or, you might institute a peer recognition program whereby staff members can nominate one another for awards, or acknowledge each other for going above and beyond.
Implementing these strategies can give your team the tools they need to be their best each and every day.