Kolbe Case Study – A long way away in a practice by the sea

This is a study of a practice set up that is by no means unique in my experience. Neil and Sharon are married dentists, and are partners and owners of this 5 year-old practice. They rely heavily on their practice manager Julie and have just appointed a new associate Debbie. What they wanted to know was how well this new set up would work, what would be the strengths and the potential weaknesses.

Their Kolbe scores:



Follow Through Quick


Neil (partner) 4 2 9 4
Sharon (partner) 7 3 7 3
Julie (PM) 7 7 2 4
Debbie (associate) 7 6 2 6

I had been working with Julie for six months or so before Debbie was appointed and already knew the main problems that existed in the management team of the two partners and practice manager.

Neil, who initiates in Quick Start, is an instinctive innovator who:

  • Challenges
  • Originates
  • Promotes
  • Brainstorms
  • Risks &
  • Intuits

Sharon scores equally in Fact Finder & Quick Start but in the Kolbe “Theory of Dominance”, Fact Finder will dominate the other mode.

Both Julie and Debbie initiate in Fact Finder also. This means that all three will:

  • Probe
  • Prioritise
  • Prove
  • Specify
  • Calculate
  • Define

That’s a certain amount of theory behind things but what happened in practice? Let’s not forget that Neil & Sharon are married and both can initiate in Quick Start, so one problem was predictable and happened as predicted. Julie would have management meetings with both of the partners where decisions would be made, Julie with her high Fact Find & Follow Through wants to plan, co-ordinate, seek order, establish procedures and work sequentially.

The partners would go home, talk things through, change decisions and act on their intuition. Result – one thoroughly irritated Practice Manager not because she disagreed with anything that her bosses had done, as she would say “It’s their business and ultimately their success, so they can do what they think is best”, but rather because, as she prevents in Quick Start, her instinct is to not be impulsive, ambiguous or to create chaos, neither will she want to operate in crisis mode whereas Neil & Sharon thrive on that.

One other problem was that Sharon, with her high fact find, a trait common in dentists, would frequently duplicate Julie’s efforts and draw conclusions leaving Julie feeling by-passed.

Sadly, although the partners had introduced Kolbe analysis into the practice I don’t believe they realised the evidence in front of them. Julie struggled with her role, not with getting the work of practice manager done but with any allowance for the way that she worked and how challenging she found working with the partners.

To go back to the addition of the associate. She initiates in Fact Finder, add that to the same scores from Sharon & Julie, could well result in there being a tendency for the clinical & management team to fall into “Perfection Paralysis”.

Here’s a quick look at the team synergy;

Fact Find Follow Through Quick Start Implement Team Synergy Ideal
0-3 Prevent 0 50% 50% 25% 31% 25%

+/- 5%

4-6 Respond 25% 25% 0 75% 31% 50%

+/- 10%

7-10 Initiate 75% 25% 50% 0% 38% 25%

+/- 5%

They score above 30% in the Initiate and Prevent Zones this can lead to Polarization which in an organisation is like conflict between individuals. Productivity is blocked because energy is sidetracked in internal tugs-of-war.

Their energy is turned inwards and this results in “on again, off again” efforts culminating in a self-destructive team.

The solutions?

  • Appoint people to “bridge” the gaps for selective projects – not necessarily easy for a small set up.
  • Break into project teams, this was tried on an informal basis but as soon as the partners got to talking across the dinner table the efforts were undermined.
  • Work independently towards shared goals, within a small organisation not that easy.
  • Look for an associate with a complimentary Kolbe MO

There was no simple answer to this one and most of my time was spent supporting the practice manager who, in spite of her efforts, felt repeatedly let down by her employers and was planning her long-term exit strategy.

Ironically although she was, at least on the face of it, regarded as a highly valued employee and a cornerstone of the practice, it was possible that she had come to the end of her time in terms of the use of her skills. Her instinctive initiation in Fact Find and Follow Through had been invaluable during a period of change and growth (coinciding ironically with Debbie’s maternity leave) but now in a time of building on those changes her skills MO wasn’t as applicable.

There also came into this, obviously, the practice owners whose emotional relationship overrode most other things although it was frequently to the detriment of the smooth running of the practices. So if you’re going into business with your spouse / partner or you’re already there your Kolbe score may explain a huge amount.

PS There was a coach’s dilemma, I was employed by the partners to coach the manager, to whom was my duty? In this and every case, to the individual who was being coached.

Published by Alun Rees

Dental Business Coach. Analyst. Troubleshooter. Consultant. Writer. Presenter. Broadcaster.

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