Great teams start with members who are there to serve

I recently attended a conference of health care administrators and executives and one of the topics was developing high-performance teams. I was asked to sit on a panel and give a brief presentation on the subject. I’m not entirely sure why I was standing up there, but I assumed it was to give a physician’s perspective. I struggled with where to start and where to end; the capacity and capability for physicians to be part of effective teams is variable.  Some physicians are great at it most of the time and some aren’t some times and other not most of the time, and the reasons range from lack of skill to lack of sleep.

The other 2 panel members had great insights and advice: 1) Teams are critical to success now and in the future given the rapid changing landscape of healthcare, 2) Teams need to be interdisciplinary, 3) Clinical teams benefit when there is a physician co-leader, and 4) Common ground is reached when making the patient the focus of the goals of the team. They gave examples of successful teams in their organizations: the key elements were clear purpose and goals, senior leadership support and involvement, openness, and transparency. I decided to focus on the key attributes of successful teams, which boiled down to 1) collective leadership, 2) strong culture, 3)  inspiring purpose and 4) focused discipline.

I also discussed the importance of the attributes of each member of the team.  A great team member has 1) commitment to the task, 2) openness to discuss crucial and sensitive topics, 3) humility for listening and learning, 4) ability to maintain group optimism and enthusiasm, and 5) skills for acknowledging the dogmatic, then help them be better team members. These attributes were taken from the literature on teamwork and #5 seemed especially pertinent to physicians. Physicians tend to be dogmatic. And dogmatism can squash a team, especially in today’s rapidly changing environment and evolving workforce of generation Xers and Yers.  The message is that good teams have individuals who can acknowledge dogmatism  in a constructive way and help that person contribute.

There is a passage in Managing the Unexpected by Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe that speaks to how individuals on teams create a culture that drives team effectiveness: “Expertise resides in the heed with which people view their inputs as contributions rather than as solitary acts, represent the system within which their contributions and those of others interlock to produce outcomes, and subordinate their contributions to the well-being of the system, constantly mindful of what that system needs to remain productive and resilient.” [Managing the Unexpected p. 78]  When physicians are on teams, it’s usually because they bring critical expertise. Physicians are great team members when their actions and words serve the best interest of the organization, its people and the patients and communities they serve.