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March 01, 2020

Getting teams to talk

Practice owners, managers unite at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference
Published on February 12, 2020

Any and all problems people have are relationship problems, said Dr. Andrew Sloyer during a session at the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago.

Practice owners, practice managers, and other professionals came together to discuss the challenges of running a practice as a team during the Jan. 9 session “Leadership Through Partnership: Owners and Managers Working Together.”

The session’s goals included assessing the working relationships of the attendees to identify areas for improvement, understanding the roles and responsibilities within a practice to promote trust and autonomy, determining the decision-making process and areas of authority, and understanding strategic and operational planning as well as how improving work relationships can help achieve goals.

Veterinarians and managers discuss challenges
Practice owners and practice managers discuss challenges within their relationships at a session during the AVMA Veterinary Leadership Conference in Chicago.

The AVMA and Veterinary Hospital Managers Association organized the session, which was led by Bethany Bankovich Mihalik, the hospital administrator at Neffsville Veterinary Clinic in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Dr. Sloyer, owner and managing partner at the clinic.

Mihalik, a certified practice manager and certified veterinary technician, said the veterinary industry and practices are very relationship centered but mostly focused on the relationship between the client and veterinarian, not among the team within the practice.

“We don’t take the time to figure out what we are doing,” she said. “Today we are going to focus on us.”

During the session, about 35 attendees discussed the challenges they face within their practices and their teams, including the lack of time to have regular meetings together to discuss operations, difficulties communicating with each other, and obstacles to reinforcing the chain of command throughout the team.

Mihalik and Dr. Sloyer focused heavily on their own experiences as manager and owner. They also discussed the need to identify and understand the different communication styles within a team.

Communication styles that the session focused on included the following:

  • Thinkers are people who function in a steady and tenacious manner. They rely on observations and rational principles.
  • Feelers are people who are dynamic and stimulating. They are sensitive to the needs and wants of others.
  • Sensors are doers. They tend to thrive with a wide variety of projects and tasks.
  • Intuitors are fast and deep thinkers with excellent imaginations.

Mihalik and Dr. Sloyer suggested that a practice offer a communication self-assessment to staff members and discuss the positives, the drawbacks, and the stressors of each style and how staff members can then own that behavior and work better together as a team.

“It is not just enough to know the style; you have to know how to motivate and reward,” Mihalik said. “We also have to take responsibility and ownership for ourselves and our own actions (and style).”

The session also included information about autonomy, how to build trust within the manager-owner relationship, what a positive working relationship looks like, what some relationship red flags are, and using a strategic plan as a relationship-building opportunity.

Neffsville Veterinary Clinic first started doing strategic planning in 2004. Mihalik and Dr. Sloyer used that experience as an example of how the process can bring a team together. Strategic planning can allow for discussion of what is and isn’t working within a practice and potential goals for the future, Mihalik said. Creating a mission and values for the practice, then assigning short- and long-term goals for team members to achieve related to the strategic plan allows for collaboration, growth, and accountability as a team.

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