Is there an all-star team member you’re terrified of losing? If so, you might be putting too much pressure and responsibility on one individual while also neglecting valuable people who could be contributing more.

THERE HAS NEVER BEEN a worse time to lean too much on a single team member in your practice. Don’t get me wrong— I’m not advocating for discouraging your A-players, who tend in any case to gravitate naturally toward challenges and increased responsibility. What I’m saying is that it might be time to ask yourself why your human resources have gone a little bit out of balance.

When certain team members become indispen­sable in the office, it’s bad for them, bad for their colleagues and bad for your practice. Just a few weeks ago, I visited an office that had lost one of its stars. All the money in the world couldn’t have prevented her from walking out the door. The doctor and the rest of the staff simply relied on her too much, for too long, and ended up creating a monster for everyone. Over time, the departing team member felt trapped under the weight of her job, with no relief in sight. It didn’t need to be that way, but it was too late to do anything about it.

First things first: Something is wrong if it feels like your day-to-day survival depends largely on one member of your team. That’s a symptom indicating that your practice’s overall systems and structures need help, and they need it fast. Some practice owners and managers kid themselves into thinking that having an indispensable employee may be a problem, but at least it’s a good problem to have. Others simply bury their head in the sand and hope things will go on like this forever… but of course they can’t, and they won’t. Do you want to address the issue proactively,
or wait until that team member quits—or worse, threatens to quit unless you meet his or her every demand? (By the way, big raises aren’t a permanent solution to anything, but that’s a topic unto itself.)

So what should you do next? Think about how you would advise your patients if they started experiencing certain symptoms that were negatively affecting their oral health. Would you encourage them to try to treat the problem at home by themselves and see how it goes? Or would you tell them to see the doctor so they can find out exactly what’s wrong and how to get better? It’s the same when it comes to practices that need help with their systems. You really need an outside consultant to see the big picture, determine what needs to be fixed and strategize effective solutions.

You could argue that because I’m a practice consultant, I’m biased. But chances are, if your systems aren’t performing optimally, you probably don’t know exactly how things got out of control. If that’s the case, and it usually is, how can you reasonably expect to diagnose the problems, let alone fix things yourself?

If your procedures and systems have allowed one team member to shoulder a larger burden than the others, that might just be the beginning of the difficulties. Don’t be disappointed in yourself, and certainly don’t be discouraged. Congratulate yourself for recognizing a symptom of a bigger problem, because that’s what smart, effective leaders do. Effective leaders also know their own limitations, and when to call for outside help.

Please understand this: You don’t have to live in fear. Getting your systems in order will keep your A-players happy and create opportunities for other team members to shine. These days, with the effects of inflation bearing down on dental practices nationwide, imagine how much better you’ll feel knowing your practice’s systems are also protecting your most valuable asset: people.

KAY HUFF is Benco Dental’s Practice Solutions Ambassador, bringing more than 40 years’ experience as a professional coach specializing
in business systems, team motivation, leadership and profitability. She is one of Dentistry Today’s Leaders in CE and Dental Consulting. Contact her at