Teamwork Lessons From Doctors and Nurses

Teamwork Lessons From Doctors and Nurses
By: Monica Gomez 

Healthcare organizations now see the positive benefits of a team culture versus a having a group of individual contributors. A study of 40 hospitals done for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality showed that the facilities with a teamwork structure maintained better patient safety than the other hospitals surveyed. A look at how doctors and nurses work together gives some insight on how teams can be more successful in any work area.

Role Definitions

Every member of a team must understand their role within the team. In a hierarchy, you know the responsibilities of the people above and below you on the org chart. The flattened structure of a team means the risk of overlapping responsibilities if the roles are unclear. In a hospital unit, the doctors, nurses, aids and technicians must know where their role begins and ends.

In business, especially startups and small businesses, people become accustomed to doing many of the same roles. This leads to duplication of effort and poor communication. Having a clear definition of each role lets the team members know how they fit into the team and how their role complements all of the others.

Team Coordinator

Every team needs a coordinator. Within a group of medical personnel, this may not always be the physician. The coordinator is the person with the best organizational skills and knowledge of how all of the roles interplay. They are responsible for enforcing the team structure and not letting it fall into a hierarchical model. For example, in a pediatric ICU, the team coordinator knows what role is the most important for an infant's care in any moment. It could be the person drawing the baby's blood, or the person changing their airway.

In a business team, each role will experience a time when the focus is on them. Having a coordinator gives that person the flexibility to perform their role without interference. Someone working on a project budget to present to shareholders needs input from various team members. The coordinator can clear that path to make those communications easier.

Learning From Each Other

What keeps a team successful is the openness to learn from each other. This has been a struggle for healthcare teams, notes the University of Mississippi Medical Center, because most healthcare providers were trained to be individual practitioners. Now it's understood that one person does not hold all of the knowledge in a team. Each person has a contribution to make, and others can learn from that.

For example, in any emergency room team, someone knows the best way to do an arterial stick. Others know how to bandage a knee so the dressing doesn't come loose. Another team member knows how to calm down an anxious mother while her child is being examined. All team members can learn these valuable skills, only if they are open to learning.

Fostering Mutual Respect
True collaboration within a team requires each member to respect the roles and structure of the team. The North Carolina Medical Board notes a phenomenon that healthcare teams have had to overcome called "power distance." This is when people are afraid to challenge each other because of the person's title or perceived level of authority. This has put patients at risk because nurses were afraid to challenge a physician's order. This gets resolved when everyone remembers the goal of the team -- the safety of the patient.

Within any team, keeping the goal out in front reminds people what they are a part of. It keeps the channels of communication open because every action is a step toward the goal. Whether it's in a business setting or a community affair, when team members respect each other and recognize that all are working toward this common goal, the team will be successful.

Monica Gomez is currently a freelance writer specializing in business and healthcare topics. She has been involved with teams enough to see the parallels that make teamwork successful.