Building a High-Performing Team


Know who you are to know where you are going.

By Grady Callaway, PT, DPT

When I was asked to write this article, I began to immediately write down my list of all the physical things we do as a company related to recruitment, retention, and onboarding, along with advice for the practice owner and potential applicants. But then I realized, I would be skipping over what comes before all of that, and what I feel is the true undercurrent of most successful teams. In teams that excel, each individual must know who they are to know where they are going, and they must use that understanding of self to align themselves with an organization that shares the same values and purpose.

I’m going to tell you a deeply personal story that ultimately has led to the creation of our private practice and the culture within it. Quite frankly it’s a little awkward sharing something so personal, but I believe part of the reason our team continues to thrive today is because we appreciate authenticity, and we have a collective understanding of our shared values. This allows us to better define who we are, why we do what we do, and where we are going.

I remember myself as a young college student doing what every physical therapy student has done: kept my head down, jumped through the hoops, aced that test, and repeated that over and over until I had arrived at being a physical therapist. I’ve made it! Or so I thought.

After graduating, I considered private practice. Wouldn’t it be awesome to partner with a fellow graduate and friend to buy an established private practice? Pipe dreams at the time and a deep sense we did not have the clinical skill set, financial resources, or the business acumen to make it successful. But those are just things, right? After mastering those skills, I thought that surely I could accomplish that goal one day. I continued chasing my dream destination in the hopes that one day I would arrive.

I worked for a couple of high-volume, physician-owned clinics for the first four years out of school. Filled with aspirations and passion, I embarked on being the best physical therapist I could be. Slowly I began to realize the environment I was in was not conducive to the quality of service I had hoped to provide. I found myself going through the motions and feeling as though my personal values were not in alignment with the organizations I had chosen.

I needed a big change personally and professionally. At this point I had gone through life regurgitating what I was supposed to do and living a truth of others instead of discovering my own deeply held beliefs and values. I packed up my bags and moved to the Big D after growing up in small-town Oklahoma. I signed on as a clinic manager with a corporate organization in the Dallas–Fort Worth area. It was a great opportunity to learn business operations and the ins and outs of a larger company. Now that I had all this experience, I was ready to open a private practice, right? Not so much.

Have you ever found yourself knowing where you want to go, but feeling there is an invisible barrier keeping you from getting there? I came to this realization one day after picking up a journal I had written five years prior and found myself complaining then as now about the personal and professional life I wanted but was not getting. I had to ask the question: What’s keeping me from becoming a better version of myself? I had made it as far as I could with the life skills and behaviors I had acquired thus far. Most of these behaviors, both healthy and unhealthy, were the direct influence of the primary caregivers I had had as a child. I was stuck emotionally and professionally. Despite my aspirations, I lacked the self-confidence and self-worth to move forward and become more of who I wanted to be. A dear friend introduced the idea of counseling to me. It was the way he phrased it that made me overcome my preconceived notions of what it means to be “in therapy.” He said, “Imagine your life is a 7 on a quality scale of 0–10. Why not make it a 10?”

I called a licensed counselor the very next day. Hands down, it was the best decision I have ever made. It was the safe place I needed to let go of some things I had been carrying with me from the past, things that were so heavy and weighing me down. It was this experience that made me think about the purpose for which I would build the company. “A safe place to heal.” We all need that physically and emotionally. We think about it physically as physical therapists, but we don’t really think about it much in terms of the deep wounds we suffer sometimes on the inside.

Wading through the mud and the muck of self-examination fostered the awareness that consistently shed light on my old self-defeating learned behaviors while keeping me laser focused on the new habits that helped me stretch beyond the shell of the self I once was. I began to surround myself with people I wanted to emulate, people I admired and looked up to. People whose inside matched their outside. People who knew their purpose, knew where they were going, and with whom they wanted to go. For the first time, I was intentional about who I would associate with and understood those people would directly influence the person I was becoming.

So, what does all this have to do with recruiting, retention, and onboarding? You must know who you are to know where you are going. All individuals on high-performing teams demonstrate habits of self-mastery and are responsible for themselves and their role in helping to create a great work culture. Whether you are a hiring company or a potential applicant, it all comes down to understanding and knowing yourself and being intentional about those with whom you choose to live and work. For the company, what behaviors should team members demonstrate within your company that’s in alignment with the values you represent? For the potential applicant, what questions should you ask in your interview to know the potential employer will be a right fit for you?

We continue to develop our recruiting process around a search for team members who resonate with our personal values. I’m extremely thankful for the team we have created. We can be our authentic selves, we’ve created a safe place to heal, and we continue to challenge each other to become better versions of ourselves every day.

Grady Callaway, PT, DPT, is a PPS member and president/CEO of 3D Physical Therapy. He can be reached at

Copyright © 2017, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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