Free article: Team building

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Steve Burnage offers ten top tips to build a winning team.


  • Successful teams can make successful dental practices.
  • Good team leaders will:
    • know and develop their team’s strengths
    • ensure that the right people are in the right role
    • positively challenge, model and support good team behaviours
    • use accountability, role clarity and professional development to tackle poor team performance
    • delegate appropriately to empower their team members.


Dental practice managers know that effective teams are certainly greater than the sum of their parts. In this article, Steve Burnage shares ten top tips to help dental practice managers build winning teams.

Ten top tips

Team building is about getting relationships right and is one of the most important ‘first steps’ any leader can take towards achieving their overall vision and ambitions for their organisation. It’s not just a matter of ensuring the right people are in the right jobs, it’s about developing good relations between leadership, staff, patients and the wider community. Successful teams are a driver in successful practice development and progress and, in following these ten top tips, practice leaders can move ever closely to establishing a positive team ethos for their practice.

1. Build friendships

Successful teams are built through friendship, trust and spending time together. Finding time to occasionally socialise with your team, to how you appreciate them through hand written ‘thank you’ notes or token gifts (I would present my team with a ‘Crème Egg thank you at Easter, small Christmas gifts, cake or biscuits at team meetings; and written thank you cards for just doing stuff well). All these strategies involved minimal effort but reaped huge rewards in terms of team effectiveness and motivation.

2. Identify skills gaps

Look at the balance of your team and try to find people who complement each other rather than mirror each other. All to often, leaders appoint team members who are mirrors of themselves – they have the same skills set, personality, even sense of humour. Successful teams need complementary members – people who have divergent skills sets, contrasting personalities and may, at times, even annoy or irritate each other. Focused discord and disagreement is good for a successful team since it generates challenge and discussion; and moves the team forward.

3. Identify and promote talent

A successful team leader needs to be able to spot people with talent and utilise it within the organisation. Sometimes this can involve taken a calculated risk which may, or may not come off; but, as team leaders we can learn from mistakes as well as successes – this models good team behaviour and builds trust and respect.

4. Play to people’s strengths

Some team leaders feel that it is a good idea to share a range of responsibilities and tasks with team members so that each gets a breadth of experience. I would suggest that successful teams play to people’s strengths and focus team members on those areas were they are most likely to succeed – If team members are good with parents of children who are patients, or other patients, let them focus on that; if they are a wizz at record keeping, let them take responsibility in that area.

5. Help people to develop

However, playing to people’s strengths doesn’t mean that a good team just focuses on what members do well. As well as identifying people’s strengths and talents, team leaders need to help their team identify and overcome their weaknesses. This isn’t just about developing skills. It might be a personality trait that’s causing an issue that needs to be addressed. It’s about helping people to grow and develop in any appropriate way.

6. Lead by example

In exploring the strategies of ‘building friendship’ and ‘identifying and promoting talent’ we have alluded to the importance of team leaders being effective role models for their team members. Of course, it is a leader’s job to act as a role model for both staff and patients and lead by example. You can and should set high expectations; but then we must model these in practice, roll up our sleeves and show that we are prepared to do whatever we ask our teams to do.

7. Delegate

Of course, leading by example doesn’t mean team leaders have to do and control everything. Good leaders will set objectives and make sure that the desired outcome is achieved. However, good leaders will also ensure that each team member is clear about what their role is, has the skills to do it and knows that they are accountable for their actions. With trust comes responsibility. Of course, good team leaders don’t set people to fail. Just as it is important we delegate, it is also important to know if or when to intervene.

8. Be prepared to move people on

You can’t have a successful team if you have a team member who is just not up to the job or who refuses to align to the direction the team is going. Whilst good team leaders will always try to grow leaders and develop people who want to be part of a successful team, we also must tackle those who don’t want to be there for the sake of the practice as well as the team.

9. Take collective responsibility

When we explored ‘delegation’ we included the need to hold people to account. As well as individual accountability, it is essentially that all team members understand that they have a collective responsibility to the team. Whatever disagreements might happen within the team, in public, the team is united in their actions and their words.

10. Be positive

Just as our learners thrive in a positive culture, our teams will also thrive in a positive environment. Team members who are encouraged with positive words, can face challenge with positive encouragement; and are able to learn from mistakes through positive and developmental feedback, will work together effectively for the good of the team and the good of the practice.

To conclude

Developing the right teams is crucial to any organisation’s successful growth and development. This applies not just to the practice leadership team but to every team member within the practice, from the colleagues that make up the dental practitioners team, those that work in reception, through to those that look after the premises and cleaning.


Use the following item in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Steve BurnageSteve Burnage works as a freelance trainer, consultant and author for senior and middle leadership, strategic development, performance management and coaching and mentoring. Steve may be contacted by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or via his website

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