You probably don’t need to be reminded that, according to many people, the veterinary profession is “in crisis.” Not a day goes by that we don’t hear about burnout, moral fatigue, or suicide risk. Adding insult to injury, veterinary practices are reporting a significant staffing shortage, which is probably both a cause and effect of well-being issues.
If you’re like most veterinary leaders, you would love to find a way to alleviate workforce shortages while improving employee well-being. Could team-building activities address both of these challenges within your practice?
Benefits of team building
While some of us might roll our eyes at the idea of “team building,” thinking back to trust falls and other awkward experiences in previous jobs, these activities can have valuable benefits for you and your employees. When done correctly, team building can enhance trust, improve communication, mitigate conflicts, and improve employee engagement.
While some veterinary practices already function as one big happy (and functional!) family, they are probably the exception to the rule. Most veterinary practices experience at least occasional conflict.
One common source of conflict in a veterinary hospital is the endless battle between “the front” and “the back.” In many practices, the receptionists are convinced that they work harder and have a more challenging job than anyone else in the hospital. Meanwhile, the veterinary technicians and assistants working in the treatment area feel the same way, convinced that the receptionists have it easy.
Regardless of the underlying source of conflict in your practice, conflict and communication challenges undermine efficiency and reduce your ability to deliver quality care. Team building activities can reduce workplace conflict, offering benefits for you, your clients, your patients, and your employees.
Team building can also improve employee engagement. Employee engagement refers to an employee’s involvement and enthusiasm in their work and workplace. Engaged employees are committed to their organization, their team, and their work. Improving employee engagement not only creates a better work environment, it can also decrease employee turnover.
5 veterinary team-building ideas
There’s more to team building than lunch-and-learns and ropes courses. While those ideas certainly can offer benefits, consider these alternatives:
1. Incorporate a team-building activity into every workday.
A daily meeting, such as a morning huddle or evening debriefing, provides a valuable opportunity to get your team on the same page. In addition to discussing business, introduce an element of fun. Begin or end each meeting with a Joke of the Day or one-minute dance break. Having fun and being silly together builds a team spirit.
If daily meetings don’t work for your practice, consider other ways to introduce daily fun. Post a Riddle of the Day on your treatment board. Find a silly photo or object to hide somewhere in your practice each day, giving your team a Where’s Waldo? style hunt to engage in at work. You want your employees to work hard, but a bit of levity can help them work together more efficiently and effectively.
2. Take a game break.
Block off an hour in your appointment schedule. Lock your front doors and let phone calls go to voicemail, or make arrangements for your practice manager or another non-core member of your team to handle the front desk.
Bring your team together for an unexpected round of friendly competition. A game like Charades, Pictionary, Apples to Apples, or Jenga can engage your entire team while fostering a collaborative spirit.
3. Take on an engineering challenge.
If you’re like most adults, you haven’t performed an egg drop challenge or built a toothpick bridge since you were a kid. Or maybe you have never done either of those things, which is even better!
Divide your employees into teams, aiming to combine coworkers who may not know each other well. Then, set up a friendly competition using childhood engineering skills:
- Egg drop challenge: Use newspapers, string, egg crates, and other easily-available materials to create a device that will safely allow an egg to fall from the ceiling to the ground without cracking. (Time: 30-45 minutes)
- Toothpick bridge building: Use toothpicks and wood glue to create a bridge between two large textbooks. Compete to see how much weight each bridge can hold. (Time: 60-90 minutes)
In these challenges, it’s less about winners and losers. Focus on creative, outside-the-box thinking and learning to collaborate with others.
4. Volunteer together.
Have an open-ended conversation with your team about their passions and how they would like to give back to your community. Agree on one or two passions shared by everyone on your team (animals are a likely starting point!) and look for a local, related volunteer opportunity.
This project doesn’t have to take away from your practice’s scheduled hours. A pet food drive for a local shelter or a children’s toy drive can easily be conducted during work hours, with some assistance from your clients. If possible, however, consider closing early one afternoon and leaving the hospital to volunteer for a local organization. Getting outside of the hospital setting can allow new dynamics to emerge, especially if your volunteer project relies on a different skill set than veterinary medicine.
5. Learn a new skill together.
Learning and practicing new skills alongside your coworkers can increase teamwork. To provide the maximum benefits for your team, look for a course where everyone is a beginner. This could be job-related, like pursuing a special certification for your practice. But don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Consider a hospital-wide yoga class, self-defense class, fishing class, or even a guided camping trip. Learning new skills as a team will help your employees learn to work together in new ways.
Team building has numerous benefits, including a healthier workplace and improved employee retention. Fortunately, there are a wide variety of team building activities you can consider for your practice, ranging from small bite-sized activities to larger activities that involve a greater investment of time and money. Evaluate your resources and your team to determine the best team building activity for your practice.
Cathy Barnette, DVM
Cathy Barnette, DVM is a veterinarian and freelance writer based in Florida. After 14 years as a small animal general practitioner, Dr. Barnette now focuses on creating educational content for veterinary teams and their clients. She shares her home with her husband, daughter, one dog, two cats, and a rescued white dove.