Designing a dynamic digital team: part 1

Dr. William E. Crutchfield discusses how to design a dynamic digital orthodontic team that is primed for success

Orthodontics by Crutchfield (OBC) staff

I have been practicing orthodontics for 30 years. For the first 20 years, everything seemed to be the same. Maybe some of the things got a little sexier and maybe a little sleeker like braces, elastics, etc., but it was still the same. Then the wonderful world of digital and three-dimensional orthodontics and the digital orthodontic office came onto the scene. What a leap to a higher plateau. We are now able to diagnose and treat our patients more efficiently and better as well as delegate more functions to our team. There is not one position in the orthodontic office that is the same as it was, even 2 years ago. The paradigm has certainly shifted, and staff knowledge and skills have evolved. I am so glad that I chose technology to be my new associate 10 years ago. But, what about our team? Where do they fit in? What personnel and what skills do we need in the digital office in order to be successful in the digital orthodontic world? Your new digital team will need to have a broader and more sophisticated working knowledge. It is up to you, the digital orthodontist, to design your dynamic digital orthodontic team that is primed for success.

Designing a dynamic digital orthodontic requires attention to the following five areas:

  1. Identifying the needs of the office
  2. Assessing your current team and identifying their skills
  3. Hiring team members to address the team needs
  4. Training the team members
  5. Leading and managing the team

Two points to remember during the designing process: The digital team will be dynamic and in constant motion. It will also be synergistic. The power of team members together is greater than the individual team members alone. In order to have a functionally efficient team, all five areas must be a constantly evaluated and modified to improve your team. It is your responsibility as team leader, not as boss, to keep the team progressing by broadening their scope and expanding their skills.

Assessing the needs of your office is the critical first step. This requires a little dreaming. Wave the magic wand. In your ideal world, without regard to money, space, etc., consider your vision of an ideal office. How would it operate and with what personnel? All team members should have input on this. From the collective information gleaned, identify your office’s ideal team tasks, and identify the skills that an ideal team member would possess in each position. Now, you have a rough profile of the ideal employee(s). So what skills do your team members need? This is hard to answer since every team is different. However, at the very least, your team needs to have a good working knowledge of the Microsoft® Office Suite, basic computer functions, skills, and IT, as well as Internet and social media skills. This is all in addition to the skills needed for specific office and orthodontic clinical tasks.

Your current team members, of course, have the inside track to the new digital office concept. There are skills and talents that some of your current team members possess that can benefit your team design and work in your digital office — “Mad skills” if you will. For example, some of your team may be great at Photoshop, social media, Excel, or IT.  Other members may have better people skills than other team members. Having the right attitude to acquire new skills and not being afraid of change are critical to team success. The key is to have a team that is eager to learn and is not averse to change. This must be the team ethos. I always tell our team, “I don’t care how much you know, but do care how much you learn.” This also applies to you, the team leader. If you do not believe, your team will not believe. And here is an unsettling thought, doctor — you probably are not and will not be the best digital performer on the team. That is why effective delegation is important. You have to have team members who are up for the challenge.

When hiring new team members, you need to look outside of the dental or orthodontic world. Placing an ad in the traditional “dental” areas of the traditional media may not be fruitful. There are plenty of people who have been burned by the corporate world. They are looking to make a change. You offer something very unique: a chance to make a difference in someone’s life. This is a powerful concept. We orthodontists cannot usually compete on the corporate pay scale. However, you do offer a clean, fun, and rewarding career with consistent hours and a happy environment. Therefore, using today’s online job placement sites and placing your job notice in non-dental areas may be more productive. For instance, there may be a receptionist, hairdresser, massage therapist, etc., looking to make a change. Your goal is to find these people and have programs in place to effectively place them and their skills into your digital office.

Training for the digital team is different from the conventional orthodontic skills training. Yes, the basic orthodontic terms and techniques need to be taught. However, other skills are needed. Team members need to know how to maneuver in the computer world easily and freely. For instance, everyone in the clinic should know how to scan patients, digitally analyze cases, align teeth digitally, do treatment simulations, order customized orthodontic wires, and virtually bend or modify orthodontic wires. Since digital orthodontic information, products, and techniques are evolving at a faster rate, it is a lot of information for your team to absorb. Therefore, it is important that team training be consistent, frequent, and interactive to keep the team sharp, focused, and progressing.

Figure 1: Leadership styles (source: K. Blanchard and P. Horsey, 1960)

Managing your new dynamic digital team is different from managing a conventional team. Your leadership needs to be more supportive than directive. You have hired these people to do a job. You, my dear doctor, must get out of the way, and let them do it. You have to trust in their skills and you have to trust in your training. With digital orthodontics and a skilled team, you also have the opportunity to delegate more tasks. Therefore, as head of this great team, it is important that “situational” leadership is brought into play (Figure 1). You must work to learn what motivates all team members, how they like to learn, and how they like to do their own jobs. The days of being highly directive are over. As one of my friends, a principal in a well-known company, told me, “I hire thoroughbreds and let them run.” Not bad advice. Hire, train, and get out of the way.

Digital orthodontics is an exciting new world. However, it can be very frustrating without the proper personnel. As leader of this exciting venture, you, the doctor, as leader need to generate the enthusiasm and have systems in place to select, train, manage, and promote the team you design. Productivity will increase, and your stress will decrease. Enjoy the ride!

William E. Crutchfield, DDS, is a Diplomate of the American Board of Orthodontics and and received his dental degree from Virginia Commonwealth University, Medical College of Virginia. He is on the suresmile® Clinical Advisory Board. Dr. Crutchfield is in private practice in Chantilly, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. As a 100% suresmile user, he often speaks on the digital team, digital orthodontic care, and digital team delegation. Dr. Crutchfield may be reached at

Disclosure: Dr. Crutchfield does not have any financial interest in suresmile or any other product mentioned in this article.

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