Jeanne L. Hites Anderson
If you are involved with health care, education, research, industry, non-profits or community change initiatives, you probably work on a team, at least part of the time. But teams do not always function optimally.
For instance, health care professionals that work on teams can provide more effective care than if they work as individuals. Every patient deserves a medical team that works effectively, however peak demand for COVID-19 hospital care is pressuring hospitals to hire traveling healthcare professionals from across the country when possible. Imagine a nurse arriving at an assigned hospital and needing to get up to speed and work with existing teams with little time for introductions.
Teams seldom “click” immediately when a group is first formed. What makes those individuals into a productive team that can collaborate to accomplish team objectives?
- Members of a productive team understand their individual roles in accomplishing team goals.
- They take joint ownership of conditions causing or influencing problems or opportunities.
- They include the perspectives of beneficiaries of their work (such as patients) in their problem-solving (Lofquist, 1989; Anderson & Pyle, 2021).
Turning individuals into a team
The complexity of a teamwork system is currently being explored by researchers (Weir, 2018). Research results show that there are several factors that influence how well a team works together, such as the team composition, the skills and attitudes of the individuals. However, probably more important are the ways team members relate to one another, their feelings and behaviors.
When time allows, it is possible to assist team members to develop positive relationships, attitudes and behaviors. First, you will have to define the “ice” that isolates individuals from one another, for instance, unique regional or cultural differences. Then, plan experiences to melt the ice and move existing “I” attitudes to “We.” Here a few ideas for doing that:
- Welcome: A facilitator or team leader might welcome the new team member as they walk in the door and provide positive messages of empathy and encouragement. For example, a hospital administrator or their designee might ask the traveling nurse or doctor about their travel to the hiring hospital. This helps communicate to the new team member that they matter. It can also help show the new member they can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts.
- Introductions: In a meeting, each existing team member might describe their favorite places in the community and why they like them. This introduction can welcome a newcomer to the community, as well as become familiar with other team members.
- Activity based on meeting topic: Time spent on group activities doesn’t come easy, so basing the activity on the meeting topic helps it do double-duty. An effective activity I have used asks team members in small groups to describe “what’s happening now” with respect to team goals. This information is shared with the larger group, then a discussion follows identifying innovative ideas for solutions. This activity helps engender a sense of common purpose, group belonging and trust. It is also an interim assessment of the situation. In a high stress situation such as healthcare in the pandemic, this activity can provide new team members a snapshot of the organization progress and work context in terms of individual, team, and organization stressors.
The objectives for these actions are to help new team members:
- Sense group belonging.
- Understand and commit to the goals of the group.
- Trust each of the other team members enough to risk sharing different viewpoints and ideas (Mears & Voehl, 1994).
- Make good decisions as a team.
- Consciously and continuously assess team process and progress (Anderson & Pyle, 2021).
Whether you work in healthcare or another context, creating a “dream team” takes effort, but it can be well worth the time.
Anderson, J. L. H. & Pyle, M. H. (2021). Making Change: Facilitating Community Action. New York: Routledge.
Lofquist, W. A. (1989). Technology of prevention workbook. Tucson, AZ: AYD Publications.
Weir, K. (2018, September). What Makes Teams Work? Monitor on Psychology, 49(8) p. 46. https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/09/cover-teams
The American Psychologist has an excellent special issue on teamwork. To read it, go to http://psycnet.apa.org/PsycARTICLES/journal/amp/73/4.