Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Effective Teaming

Although I talked at great length about teaming in my last post, I would like to share some additional thoughts about the qualities of strong teams which I shared with the CHRISTUS Senior Leadership Team as we sat in Chicago waiting to accept our leadership award last week.

It has always been clear to me that teams are grown, rather than born. Consequently, I particularly wish to share with you what I believe has helped to fertilize the growth of our team over the last nine years.

First and foremost, teams must become comfortable with making individual sacrifices for the good of the whole. As we formed CHRISTUS Health and determined that our new location would be in Dallas rather than in Houston or San Antonio (where the two current corporate offices were housed), numerous team members had to make the sacrifice of moving to new geographical areas. For some, the timing was not right because of children’s ages or because they were fully integrated into the communities where they presently lived. In addition, the simultaneous movement of spouses always presents a challenge. But when the decision was made that certain senior team members needed to be in the Dallas office, they voluntarily made the moves and overcame the challenges. In addition, new office space needed to be developed, and because it wasn’t ready immediately when we transitioned to Dallas, we needed to sacrifice and meet in a hotel or other location for an interim period of time. Developing a strong team with a large number of moving parts at the beginning is not always ideal, but yet this was a building block for our strong team’s functioning as we continued our Journey to Excellence.

Secondly, strong teams have to tolerate high anxieties. The original team members were designated as “interim” since they did not know if the new CEO (that is me) would want to continue to support them, nor did they know whether they would want to work for him or her. However, they continued to be very loyal, focused and hard-working as we formed together an outline of what we would need to accomplish in CHRISTUS’ first 60 days. I would like to point out that every member of that original team is still part of the team nine years later.

Third, strong teams need to develop trust—a trust for each other’s judgment, knowledge and commitment to do what we say we are going to do. This trust develops over time and is only enhanced through the years by a team that is strong. Clearly, this may be the hardest competency to develop because we are people with all the characteristics of imperfect human beings. Everything we have done has not turned out perfectly, but our trust in each other is enhanced by debriefing on and learning as much from our failures as our successes.

Next, excellent teams manage transitions well. We have had two COO transitions in the first eight years of our journey, during which I served as the COO for a nine month period in 2000 and a two-and-a-half year period from 2004 to 2006. In August of 2006 we recruited another member of our Senior Leadership Team who fulfills the COO responsibilities. He has transitioned onto our team quickly, becoming a full-fledged member and fully accepted into the organization.

Also, excellent teams are innovative. Once again, our team has demonstrated this in many ways. Some examples of this include our movement into Mexico and our transition of our portfolio to one-third acute, one-third non-acute and one-third international.

Excellent teams must also take risks, and our team’s list of risks would be quite extensive. It would include our willingness to enter international markets as well as our acquisition of the Stehlin Foundation for Cancer Research. Although we were loosely connected with this center before we acquired it (they were located on one of our campuses), we recently became full owners of it, and have, therefore, entered the drug development field. We are taking this risk not because we think it might bring a great financial reward, but because we believe that the Stehlin Foundation has a great possibility of introducing several life-saving drugs for severe cancers that people all over the world now endure. It is important to note that CHRISTUS also took a risk and spent over $20 million in developing the artificial rib for children born with a hemi-thorax in the late 80’s and early 90’s. This apparatus is now FDA-approved and has been touted recently as one of the 20 most significant advances made in the orthopedics in the last 75 years. This serves as just one example of a risk supported by a strong vision which resulted in a life-saving legacy for many people.

Excellent teams also need to know how to “garage sale,” to go through their assets and determine what no longer makes sense for the good of the ministry. Our team has taken this task to heart, and through our eight-and-a-half years, has exited markets and programs, leaving in their places much more innovative ways to provide new and better services in those communities.

Strong teams also plan and manage growth. They are willing to adopt new “children” and assimilate them into their family. We have many new locations and new partnerships which have strengthened the CHRISTUS family through geographical distribution, service expansion and diversity of people.

Resiliency is the next trait that is critical to strong teams. Resilient people remain optimistic during difficult and challenging times, and although they may temporarily find themselves in a valley or on a detour on the journey, they never lose sight of the destination regardless of how high the summit might be. Our Journey to Excellence, although it has be steadily progressing, has had leveling off points where we have gotten stuck in some of our improvement plans, but as a team we have never given up nor lost sight of the end point.

And finally, excellent teams like ours are committed to continuous, life-long learning. We are constantly sharing articles, reviewing journals, pouring over environmental assessments and networking with others to determine the latest trends, technology, etc. As a result, we are developing an innovation institute which will bring together—in a virtual way—all the programs and people necessary to build the future health of care on our successes, one that will serve a greater number of people in a larger number of places, giving them the right care at the right time in the right place.

A strong team is essential for any organization to reach excellent goals, and I hope my last few posts will give you better insight as to what those competencies are required for those teams and how they might be developed.

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