Effective Team Training Embraces Differences

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Teaching Target:


Many veterinary practices, like most small businesses, do not have a human resources (HR) department, and veterinarians and managers often overlook training while focusing on hiring issues that appear more pressing. An effective training program is an essential component of a successful practice and can help make the most of the existing team when executed well.

A compounding factor of overlooked training opportunities is the fact that most veterinary practices do not have a training budget, so team members are training others as well as carrying out regular duties. My experience as a team member, practice manager, and practice consultant has shown me that this may seem cost-effective, but the added responsibility actually increases stress and reduces both productivity and the time spent on training. Hundreds of team members have reported feeling resigned to the fact that a new team member will likely experience insufficient and disjointed training using this informal “on the job” process.1 

Training is vital for a veterinary practice’s success, and a successful program can be instituted with or without an HR department. 

Remember these 3 points: 

  • Training ideally should be provided by a dedicated trainer or trainers, not added to team members’ current responsibilities, although this often may not be possible.
  • Successful trainers can adapt to each team member’s unique learning style.
  • Training is successful only if team members retain the information.

Trainers as a Resource

Using a team member who is freed of other responsibilities to dedicate his or her time to training pays off as the new team member more rapidly becomes productive.2 When team leaders invest in training resources and programs, team satisfaction and practice productivity increase.2,3

One study reported clerical workers  with dedicated training showed a 40% improvement in productivity during their first 3 months of employment and an additional 32% by the end of the second year, compared with those who did not receive such training.2

Interestingly, training often results in a higher productivity increase than the purchase of new equipment,2 which supports the importance of investing in a complete, organized, ongoing training program.  

Different Styles

Humans are multifaceted and respond to different training methods.4 Almost everyone needs autonomy, self-paced learning and engagement, measurable steps to success, and guidance, but they need them in a variety of ways.4 There are 4 different groups of learners5:

  • Feelers 
  • Observers
  • Thinkers
  • Doers

A good training program ensures every team member’s learning style is included. First, determine the most effective style for each team member (for example, by using the VARK questionnaire6), then customize the training to ensure team members learn and retain the information. Offering a variety of learning options may require extra effort, but if it leads to better team member retention and satisfaction, it will save money and time. 

A good training program ensures every team member’s learning style is included.

Adults not only learn differently—they also respond differently to various teaching styles. Unlike school children, adults do not view teachers or trainers as authorities or experts but see them as resources.4 This nonhierarchical viewpoint can lead to cognitive biases (eg, confirmation bias, choice supportive bias, over- confidence bias), which may affect learning retention and the team building that follows. Cognitive bias is defined in many ways; here, it represents objective judgments grounded in personal experiences that present roadblocks to training retention or implementation. 

In The Trainer’s Handbook, Karen Lawson says instructors also have 4 different styles7:

  • Sellers
  • Coaches
  • Professors
  • Entertainers

To ensure success and high performance, training programs must consider not only the most effective teaching method for each team member but also his or her best learning style.

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Learning Retention

Learning is of no value if the information is not retained. To evaluate retention, define the expected, required, and desired outcomes. Trainees must always be clear about what is expected at the end of training. With required outcomes, the management team sets the bar they want team members to reach. A list of desired outcomes allows team members to see what the management team hopes team members will eventually know and which skill sets team members will develop. 

For each outcome, team members should be able to take measurable steps and monitor their progress. Goals, such as achieving a specific skill set in a specific time frame, provide a method of accountability and chart a road map not only for the future of individual trainees but also for the practice. 


Training is critical. Without training, team members are set up to fail, and if they fail, the practice fails.

Training Tips & Resources

Offer Incentives

  • Offer cash prizes to trainers and trainees if trainees finish the project or task on time and test well. 
  • Consider being chosen as a trainer a vote of confidence from your employer, because training other team members while working is time-consuming and not easy.

Make Learning Fun

  • See. Do. Train. Repeat. 
  • Role-play is invaluable and can help keep trainees engaged and excited. 
  • Encourage learning and maintain the energy with activities like Parasite Pictionary and Client Jeopardy. 
  • Hold an equipment fair—office, laboratory, computer, technical—for hands-on team training and education on how to operate the practice’s equipment. 

Use Variety

  • Understand that any contribution takes a village and is not just one person’s or group’s responsibility. Train one-on-one, or as a group, practice, or department. 
  • To deliver information, use a mixture of written Standard Operating Procedures material, online information, and internal videos using tools such as private YouTube videos and Zoom to include team members who cannot attend in person. Those attending in person should also attend on Zoom. Record for later viewings. 
  • Provide reference materials (eg, self-education resources) and keep an easily accessible resource library.  


  • Make sure to allot time, resources, support, and a specific, measurable timetable. Hold trainees accountable for completing training—including renegotiating timelines, if necessary. 
  • Customize the training to the practice. Use a purchased base product, such as On The Floor @Dove or Animal Care Training (ACT), and build on that. 
  • Training must be a safe activity—there are no stupid questions. 
  • Downtime in the practice should be spent reading library materials or other resources. Do not allow team members to use cellphones, text, or email, or spend time on Facebook when they could be using downtime to brush up on skills or learn new information.
  • Obtain feedback from both trainers and trainees using survey products such as Survey Monkey or Constant Contact. 
  • Use assessment tools; see phase-training examples from VHMA.org, DVM360.com, and the testing included with the selected training provider. 
  • For more information on cognitive biases, visit businessinsider.com/cognitive-biases-that-affect-decisions-2015-8
  • Turnover among nonveterinarians in the veterinary profession is 15% to 31%,1 so take time to hire right and train right.


1. Compensation and Benefits. 8th ed. AAHA Press. 2016:116-119.

Related Article: Turnover: The Cost to a Practice and How to Prevent It



Adults have different learning styles and respond to different teaching styles, so be familiar with each team member’s preference and develop training programs that will cover each team member’s learning style.

Management Team:

If possible, appoint a team member as the team’s dedicated trainer rather than adding training to his or her responsibilities, which can lead to ineffective training and stress or burnout.

Nursing Team:

Along with the entire team, take self-tests to determine individual learning styles so each team member knows how he or she learns best and gets the most out of each training session.

Client Care Team:

After a training session, be sure to know the expected, required, and desired goals—these will help provide a road map for the future and help ensure the lessons learned are retained.

References and author information Show
  1. Vasudevan H. Examining the relationship of training on job satisfaction and organizational effectiveness. Intl J Manag Bus Res. 2014;4(3):185-202.
  2. Bishop JH. What we know about employer-provided training: a review of literature. Cornell University ILR School, Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies. Published July 1, 1996. Accessed August 1, 2016.
  3. Vasudevan H. Examining the relationship of training on job satisfaction and organizational effectiveness. Intl J Manag Bus Res. 2014;4(3):193,198.
  4. Knowles M, Holton E, Swanson R. The Adult Learner: The Definitive Classic in Adult Education and Human Resource Development. 7th ed. New York, NY: Routledge; 2012:22-23.
  5. Lawson K. The Trainer’s Handbook. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer; 2009:30-35.
  6. The VARK questionnaire. How do I learn best? 2016 VARK Learn Limited. http://vark-learn.com/the-vark-questionnaire. Published 2016. Accessed July 2016.
  7. Lawson K. The Trainer’s Handbook. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer; 2009:60.



  • A Company of Owners: Maximizing Employee Engagement. Martin D. Franklin, TN: Clovercraft Publishing; 2015.
  • How great leaders inspire action (TED Talk video). Sinek S. TEDx. September 2009.
  • Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Sinek S. New York, NY: Portfolio; 2011.

Pamela D. Stevenson

CVPM VetResults, Durham, North Carolina

Pamela D. Stevenson, CVPM, owner of VetResults, is a practice management consultant whose intention is to improve the lives of animals and those that surround them. She began her commitment to the veterinary profession in 1981 with patient care and client service and has expanded her veterinary repertoire to include practice management, operational consulting, and association management. 

FUN FACT: In 2015, Pam completed her first-ever double century race, which consists of 2 100-mile bicycle rides over 2 consecutive days.

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