One of my favorite weekends of the year starts tomorrow. Why? Because it is the NCAA Men’s Regional Final Four Basketball Tournament! This year, I am especially excited, because two Big 10 teams are in the quest to become the 2015 NCAA Championship team. I have a college and alumnae allegiance to the University of Illinois, but I am really a Wisconsin Badger fan, because of the eight years we lived in Madison.
When my family moved there, Wisconsin was not known as a basketball powerhouse, but March Madness of 2000 changed that when Coach Dick Bennett took the Wisconsin men’s basketball team to the Final Four. As I watched Wisconsin play Arizona last Saturday night, I thought of all the lessons we can learn about leadership and teamwork exemplified by this Wisconsin team.
I suppose one has to first live in Wisconsin to truly understand that people there don’t really wish to stand out, individually. For the most part, they are understated people who usually go about doing the work that needs to be done—no fanfare, no need for individual praise; they just want to get the job done, and there’s no feeling that any one job is more important than another.
As I watched the tournament game last weekend, I was struck by the fact that the players’ uniforms all have the classic Wisconsin motion W, but there are no names on the uniforms. As a newbie to Wisconsin basketball in 2000, I asked someone about this. Without hesitation, my friend told me that in Wisconsin, the emphasis is on the team, not the individual. No one player is more important than the other.
As I mulled over that response, I decided that the University of Wisconsin Health System would take the lead from the Wisconsin men’s basketball team, and we eliminated titles from our doors and from our employee badges. I always knew where people worked without these identifiers, because we kept the department name on the badge; but without titles on our badges, it was emphasized that no one position in our organization was more important than any other. We all were important parts of a team.
The other thing I noticed about the Wisconsin team is that if one player was not doing well that night, the team rallied and found someone who could get the baskets needed. Although Frank Kaminsky is a great basketball player, the last two games have not been his very best. Fortunately, Sam Dekker stepped up, and along with the other forward and guards, made the difference between winning and losing. When the opponent finds a weakness, the Wisconsin team adjusts and continues to play.
It’s the same in the work we do at UTMB. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses, but we must magnify the strengths of the team to get the work done. Sometimes the usual leader is not up to a particular job at that moment, so others on the team step up to help and get the job done. During the past two weeks as I have recovered from knee surgery, this has certainly been the case with the leadership team that works with me. They have stepped up and kept everything going exceptionally well to allow me the time I needed to mend.
If you watch the games this weekend, take note of another thing: most of the coaches are running up and down the sideline signaling or calling out plays to the players. The Wisconsin head coach, Bo Ryan, rarely does this. Why? Because he and the team have practiced and practiced and practiced to the extent that he trusts his team to continue to move the ball and make the plays that they have practiced time and time again. They are prepared. And so it should be with us.
One great example at UTMB is that while we have not yet needed to care for an Ebola patient, our nurses, physicians and other employees who will be at the front line of care, should this ever occur, have trained and trained and trained so that they are prepared. There are so many more examples of teams preparing throughout the organization. Have you thought about how you contribute to your team to care for our patients? Even if you don’t directly care for a patient, your supportive work, whether it is filling the Omnicell or greeting families and visitors, contributes to the team’s overall effort to take good care of our patients.
As a leader, it is apparent that Bo Ryan completely supports his team. When he came out of the locker room after halftime in a game where Frank Kaminsky did not have a stellar first half, one of the sports announcers asked what Coach Ryan had said to him team, which was losing at the time. Coach Ryan didn’t take the bait. Instead, he simply said, “I told the team to keep doing what they were doing.” The announcer then tried to get him to comment on Kaminsky’s performance, but Coach Ryan rattled off Kaminsky’s first half statistics and said he thought Kaminsky was having a good game. There it is: Coach Ryan always supports his team. He may privately talk to them about what they need to improve, but publicly, he always supports their efforts. Do anything else, and you erode the team.
Finally, when the Wisconsin team gets behind, they don’t panic. They generally don’t make “dumb shots” or “bad passes”. You win the game (you get where you need to go) if you are prepared and don’t panic. So far that has worked for Wisconsin. The team has two more games to go, and my hope is that they emerge as the champion; if they do not, I am still proud to support them, because for me, they exemplify all that is good about leadership and teamwork.
I know we are faced with much change and many challenges in health care today. The future is riddled with one proposed cut after another from our payors. I know you have heard about our challenge to improve our margin by $100 million over the next five years, and that seems like daunting feat to many. But, if we do not panic, and if we create a detailed game plan for addressing this challenge, then we can systematically work the plan, and we will be successful.
Just as I am confident and proud of the Wisconsin team, so I am confident about UTMB’s future because we have the right team of people and, under the leadership of UTMB President Dr. Callender, we have the right leadership to face future challenges and emerge a stronger UTMB.