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Don’t Let “Teamwork” be a Buzzword: How to Boost Team Collaboration

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Effective team collaboration is vital to your practice’s success. Studies have shown that team collaboration does far more than just keep your practice running smoothly — it can improve patient safety, communication, and treatment outcomes. So whether you notice a lack of teamwork among your staff or not, it never hurts to implement a few key techniques to boost cooperation. Here’s how to start.

Encourage communication

Communication falls at the top of the list of key ways to encourage better teamwork in your practice. Teams that can’t communicate with each other tend not to deliver the same standard of care as teams working in lockstep to deliver on the same, understood outcome. Set aside a regular day and time during the week for discussions or check-ins, and require that every member of your team attend and participate. Given the time constraints associated with busy doctor’s office schedules, it can be hard to squeeze in another meeting. But a quick check-in can often do the trick. These meetings become especially important when implementing new procedures or training a new hire.

Cross-train

Effective team players see the value that other team members bring to the table — both in terms of personality strengths and job duties. But you can’t expect staff to just “get” or appreciate what others’ day-to-day duties are. That’s where cross-training comes in. Consider the following example: nurses expect charts for their incoming patients to be queued up on screen when they enter the exam room, and in your office, nurse’s aides or intake managers typically do that when they show patients to their rooms. But what happens on days when your intake manager calls out sick? It’s critical that both nurses and receptionists know how to do this themselves. Likewise, when call volumes are high and you sorely need another set of hands at the front desk, your well-cross-trained nurse or tech can jump in.

Confront conflict, don’t ignore it

Delivering exceptional health care services is stressful, and in team-driven, high-pressure environments, occasional conflict is inevitable. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, some conflict is actually normal and healthy. The key is understanding which conflicts are healthy and which are harmful. According to organizational psychologist Michael Woodward, “Unhealthy conflict is when it becomes personal and emotional. Then your judgment gets clouded.” The worst thing you can do with unhealthy conflict is sweep it under the rug.

Over time, unaddressed conflicts will grow from mole hills to mountains. A global study by organizational development company CPP, Inc., showed that among U.S. workers, 27 percent have seen conflict morph into a personal attack, and 25 percent say conflict has resulted in absence from work.

Acknowledging conflict and addressing it directly shows your team that you take them seriously. Helping to resolve staff problems is about more than just being a good manager. A recent study for the Society for Human Resource Management found that 72 percent of employees rank “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” as a significant factor in job satisfaction. Help your employees feel valued and you’ll improve retention and your bottom line.

Be clear about responsibilities and deadlines

Nothing is more frustrating or deflating than putting time and effort toward a task and realizing that someone has already done it. This is why it’s critical to establish responsibilities within your team before work begins. Establishing deadlines for tasks and sharing those schedules is just as important. This allows for transparency and helps alleviate the frustrations that can arise when team members work in silos.

Reward teams together

Celebrate the successes of your teams by acknowledging their accomplishments together. Treat and recognize achievements clearly as the result of combined efforts. It can feel discouraging to see a member of your team singularly celebrated for a success that you happily contributed to. Morale and the desire to replicate successes are both lifted when teams are acknowledged for their missions accomplished, and each team members’ individual contributions are called out for the group. Staff retreats can be the perfect way to reward teams as a whole.

Know when to reconfigure

There are times when the team chemistry just isn’t there. You’ve tried everything: attempted to mediate conflict, rewarded big successes, and cross-trained disciplines as much as possible. But head-butting continues to arise. It’s important to recognize when a given team’s dynamic just isn’t working. That’s when adjustments and re-organizing rosters is the best path. Whatever discomfort people feel around a move to another team will fade quickly when they realize that they are getting along better in their new set-up. And it’s likely that all team members will feel relief—no one wants to deal with fraught relationships on a daily basis.

Health care workers deem teamwork and communication as the most important factors to improving their clinical effectiveness and job satisfaction. And, research has shown that working together cuts down on medical errors and increases patient safety. In fact, a study by the Canadian Patient Safety Institute determined that communication breakdowns are the primary root cause of up to 70 percent of patient safety incidents. With so much importance placed on these concepts, it’s critical to devote some time and energy toward brushing up your staff’s teamwork skills.

For more tips on how to make your practice run smoothly, visit the practice management section of our blog.

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