In my recent post, “Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other”, we explored how UTMB’s vision for the future forms the basis for our goals moving forward, both in the present year and in the years to come. We also affirmed that the key to our success is working together to be the best academic health center. This week, I’d like to talk about why working together as a team, cooperating and forging relationships, is so important to our future.
There is a line in a poem by John Donne: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Many of the great things worth doing probably can’t be achieved in isolation, and working together often allows an organization to achieve something that an individual working alone cannot. At UTMB, we want to become the preferred, integrated health care provider in the region for our patients, partners and referring physicians. Simply put, we want to be the best. Therefore, our goals and strategies must also be integrated in as many ways as possible. Through teamwork, we can achieve higher quality outcomes that are more efficient, thoughtful and effective. By doing so, each individual and team at UTMB can garner great support and achieve a great sense of accomplishment.
Success in the modern health care environment is complex and continually presents new challenges. At UTMB, we’ve been progressive in our work and our goals must be ambitious in order to remain competitive and truly become the best. We have a lot on our plates as we take major strides to improve patient satisfaction, patient and family engagement, and the quality of care, all the while lowering costs and improving efficiency. Our resources are limited, and this means we must find ways to team up and streamline our work. As a health care provider, or even as a business, we are not alone in this—today companies, on average, set six times as many performance requirements as they did more than 50 years ago.
However, challenges also present great opportunities for success. The key lies in how we will respond to the challenges. As we strive to develop more efficient processes and new models of care, improve access to our system, and enhance communication with our patients and families (all of which are multifaceted initiatives), we must create an environment in which our providers and staff can work with one another to develop creative solutions to complex challenges. We must be innovative and adaptive. Our solutions don’t have to be sophisticated or perfect, but they have to create greater value. The solutions must be developed by and integrated among teams who work together and depend on one another.
When people cooperate, they use fewer resources; conversely, when we don’t cooperate we need more time, equipment, systems, teams and resources. Staff must compensate for a lack of cooperation, and often, even safety risks can result. Teamwork involves removing barriers that make us self-sufficient. Sharing resources is a good way to make people more dependent on, and more cooperative with, one another. Without such buffers, our actions have a greater impact on one another’s effectiveness. By creating overlaps, streamlining activities, partnering with our partners and affiliates increases the mutual value of our work.
But teamwork is more complicated than cooperation alone. While cooperation is usually for the sake of a common goal that the entire team is working toward—some measurable outcome, a willingness to cooperate stems from relationships that develop between coworkers and leaders. What are the connections, the interactions, and the synapses? Teamwork cannot exist without relationships, even if the extent of the relationship is minimal. Teamwork does not occur if each person does their own thing separately from their work relationships.
To respond to complexity intelligently, people have to really understand each other’s work: understand how each person on the team contributes to the overall process of accomplishing a goal, the goals and challenges others have to meet, the resources they can draw on, and the constraints under which they operate. People can’t find this kind of information in formal job descriptions; they can learn it only by observing and interacting. Without this shared understanding, people might blame problems on other people, and not where it actually should be, like broken or inefficient processes, for example.
In many cases, understanding what people do by shadowing them will provide insights into where and how cooperation is breaking down. Identify individuals in your work area who are already interacting with multiple stakeholders (patients as well as internal partners). These people can act as integrators, helping the teams obtain from others the cooperation needed to deliver more value.
Finally, bring the best out of one another. Know and recognize the strengths of others in your teams and encourage one another to leverage those strengths. Everyone is empowered to use their judgment and intelligence, and feedback is important so we can all understanding where we are performing well and where improvement is needed. Stay tuned into how your team is performing. Don’t be afraid to speak up when you see something that feels unsafe, if you feel concerned, uncomfortable, or think the team should stop and reevaluate a situation. Reward those who cooperate, and don’t fail to ask for help when you need it!
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” —Henry Ford