High performing teams – Manager or Mate?

Managing an optical practice is a complex issue. Invariably you are managing a small number of people with whom you are often best friends and know well. Read on for insights into how to still get the best from your team when you are best of mates.

Many practice managers raise this as their greatest problem in management. One minute you are best friends with your team, but the next morning you could have an issue that needs you to have a difficult conversation with one of your staff. If you take no action because you feel you can’t discipline a friend, the problem will fester. Worse still, other members of the team copy the offender as they got away with it, or animosity builds amongst the team. Either way, you are viewed as a poor manager and lose control of the team.

To prevent this happening, follow the first basic rule of management: establish boundaries between you and your team.

I’m your manager not your friend.

Once in a management position, much of your partying must end. You will still need to socialise at company events, celebrate team birthdays, weddings and so on but at such times you must remain professional and consider it as a working night out.

Once you have established these boundaries you will find it much easier to deal with difficult situations and motivate the team. When situations arise, you must quickly decide if it matters or not to the team, the patients and the business. If it does, deal with it swiftly. For example, your receptionist has been late all week and its now Friday. The private conversation should go along the line, “I’ve observed you have been late every morning this week which is most unusual for you, is there a problem?”

If the response comes back, “I keep mis-timing it boss, its these dark mornings I don’t like getting out of bed”, your responses could be along the lines of: “Can I suggest you set your alarm earlier and we will review the situation at the end of next week.” This you do with praise when the problem is resolved or further action if they are still late.

On the other hand, if the reason for lateness is because their mum is ill, and they must visit her on the way to work, some compassion is needed, establishing if the issue is short or long term. Then look at solutions considering flexible working if needed and recognising that good members of the team so often get reduced lunch breaks and work after hours, this is an opportunity to reward this culture and allow a temporary late start time.

Managing your team’s behaviour requires you to be firm but fair, and compassionate when needed. We must also remember it not all about the team. We have patients to satisfy and the business need to be profitable for the owner to be happy. This produces a triangle of needs; the patients, the team and the business. You need to realise that you may not have all three parties happy at the same time. For example, you may need to say no to someone who requests holiday when another member of the team has already booked off the same week.

Be careful when you are asked for a request you know you cannot grant. For example, “I want to change my day off” or “I want to reduce my working hours”. Employees have the right to request flexible working and this should and can be granted where possible but not if it has an adverse effect on the business. It’s better you listen and say you will think about such requests for a couple of days. During this time you can consider the request and look at what you can and cannot do about it. You must have a follow up meeting in the agreed time scale, explain that you have considered the request and looked at all options, which you could go through. You can phrase a response like this: “Unfortunately, I cannot grant your request for the reasons I have explained.” This way your team member understands you have considered the requests and fully understands why it cannot be granted.

Leading by example

You must also understand that you cannot make demands of your team or criticises poor performance if you are also the culprit. You must practice what you preach. You should have your head up and your shoulders back as you turn the corner to the practice. Your shoes should be shining and your uniform clean and ironed. And have a positive smile on your face as you open the practice door, always early. Your body language is as important if not more than the words you speak and the tone in which you speak.

Firm but fair

Be firm but fair with your team and you will gain respect. Be the shining example of what you expect from others and the team will follow you. When and only when you have gained the teams respect and support can you look at practice development and advancement on a road to being the best optical practice possible.