Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Strengthening an Already Great Team

During challenging times, another opportunity that presents itself is the chance to enhance the strength of the leadership teams in a health care organization. Some people naively believe that teaming is easy and is a natural tendency of health care leaders. However, it has been my experience that perhaps the direct opposite is true. Why?

In order for people to accept the responsibility and accountability associated with leadership in health care, which is extremely complex, each individual must be tremendously strong-willed and have very high levels of self-esteem and leadership egotism. It is these very essential traits which guarantee individual success that often provide significant barriers to guaranteeing success in a team that is required to function in a coordinated fashion to reach consensus in both operational tactics and strategic directions.

In addition, these conflicting characteristics are often accentuated in challenging times like this economic crisis, and therefore require the team to pause and determine the most important characteristics of successful teaming and how can they be enhanced.

With this knowledge, I am taking the opportunity to have two workshops with my senior team, one in March and one in July to do the following: 1) articulate my 10 characteristics of strong and successful teams; 2) determine if their characteristics for successful teaming are congruent with mine, or if additional ones should be added; 3) evaluate which of the characteristics we have done exceedingly well over the last 2 years; 4) also determine those which are still presenting challenges for successful implementation and 5) develop action plans to correct the latter and improve them so that ultimately our already excellent team will be as perfect as possible.

I have focused on 10 characteristics of teaming, which I attempted to develop in the teams I have worked with and have had the privilege to lead over the last 40 years. They include the following:
1. Freedom. Team members must feel empowered to try new approaches to their work.
2. Trust and openness. Team members must always feel comfortable sharing ideas with one another.
3. Idea time. Team members must have time to think about and develop new ideas that can be shared with each other on an individual basis as well as in group meetings for further exploration and dialogue.
4. Agenda planning. Team members are always encouraged to help formulate meeting agendas to add critical topics on the spur-of-the-moment and to participate in rolling agenda planning as far in the future as they can see.
5. Conflict. If team members are participating in robust and meaningful discussions, they will occasionally experience personal tension and conflict. It is imperative that each individual team member and the group at large learn how to deal openly and honestly with these tensions, causing them to be as healthy as possible rather than disruptive.
6. Debate. As indicated above, robust discussions must be a hallmark of every team meeting, and therefore team members must have the ability to constructively discuss and challenge one another’s ideas and approaches while being open to listening to others intently as their positions are being expressed. A great philosopher once said that is why we have two ears and only one mouth.
7. Idea support. Team members must encourage one another’s ideas and participate in healthy discussions with appropriate professional pushback to bring the right ideas to a level of understanding so that they might be implemented into future planning.
8. Risk taking. Team members must be comfortable in making decisions and taking actions when the team leader is not present. They must feel comfortable that Monday morning quarterbacking is not an operational strategy of the team leader. Instead, debriefing to learn is undertaken to review decisions made as individuals which impact the whole organization and reflect on the team’s accountability and responsibility.
9. Challenge and involvement. Team members must always feel connected to the team and therefore the organization, but simultaneously always stretched by their work and take pride in it. However, this stretching must not be in excess; the team members must feel that they have the ability to balance their personal and professional lives.
10. Playfulness and humor. Team members, if they are to be successful, must see their workplace and their team meetings as times and places that can be at least partly relaxed and filled with fun. I have utilized humor over my years in health care as a way to create an atmosphere in which team characteristics can be openly and honestly expressed. Likewise, with humor, I have been able to communicate some of my toughest and sternest messages.

In a future blog post, I will share with you any additional characteristics our team has added and describe the action plans we agree upon in the July workshop to improve those characteristics so we are not only better qualified to navigate through this perfect storm, but any future storms which undoubtedly will become a part of our second decade as we travel to 2019.

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