Teamwork and Trust

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemContinuing with last week’s theme of college basketball (and in honor of March Madness), I thought it would be interesting to talk about some of the different aspects of basketball that foster teamwork and trust. It is fascinating to me that a group of individuals can join together as a team, and even though many of the team members may have never played together in the past, they can become good enough over the course of two to four years that they can always count on one another to be at a particular place on the court during a set point in a specific play.

Practice after practice, the team drills the offensive and defensive plays developed by their coach to become consistent, and through this intense practice and repetition, the plays become second nature—the team develops an intense trust of one another and their coach, and decisions about passing and shooting become instinctive.

The one move that amazes me most is the blind pass, which occurs when the player with the ball looks in one direction but passes in another. This is done to confuse the opposing team’s defense. It is not an easy move, and it is definitely risky, but when it happens and works, it is truly remarkable. I remember the first player I ever saw do this with any regularity was Pistol Pete Maravich, but other greats such as Isaiah Thomas, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Steve Nash and Michael Jordan all also used this pass with some regularity. And most of the time, this type of pass successfully caught the other team off guard, resulting in points scored.

I would imagine in order to effectively carry off the blind pass, each member of the team must understand everyone’s roles well, knowing they can count on one another to be where they should be at a specific moment and time, doing their defined job; they also have to believe their teammates are sufficiently capable. This is really the only way any team can optimally perform!

In many respects, we have our own blind passes in health care. For example, think about how important it is for each member of the team in the emergency department to know their own role as well as that of others on their team. They must trust and have confidence in one another. When seconds matter, as they often do in the ER, being able to act deliberately, consistently and predictably can mean the difference between life and death. And, it is the same in the operating room and on the inpatient units when acting decisively is critical to the outcome for the patient.

In the clinics, the pressure of time may not be as intense, but when a patient needs an appointment or calls with an issue they need to discuss with us, it is important for each member on our team to know their role and perform predictably. If not, we ultimately let the patient down, and our lack of responsiveness could mean we have lost the opportunity to intervene during a time when we could help prevent the patient from becoming increasingly ill and/or having to be admitted to the hospital.

Finally, a good blind pass requires great communication on the court—and, so it is with health care. As we work in teams, being able to be open and forthright with each other regarding the care of each patient is essential. It is critical that every member of the team respects one another and encourages each other to speak up when they are concerned about any aspect of the patient’s plan of care. After all, it is only in an environment of mutual respect and explicit trust that people feel comfortable speaking up. A team is not a group of people who merely work together; a team is a group of people who trust each other.

Phil Jackson is an American professional basketball executive, former coach and former player, who currently serves as president of the New York Knicks in the NBA. He says, “Good teams become great ones, when the members trust each other enough to surrender the ‘me’ for the ‘we’”.

So, how will WE work together to work wonders for our patients and their families today?

Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemI admit it! I love college basketball. Not just any college team, however. I am an avid Kansas University basketball fan (the “why” is a story for another time). We are now about three weeks away from the beginning of March Madness, and other than work, it is hard for me to focus on anything other than watching the games in the evening and on weekends.

My love of the sport began in high school. My senior year, our high school team came in third in the state tournament. I remember walking into the Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois and being overwhelmed by the sheer size of the field house. Today, that experience reminds me of the movie, “Hoosiers”, when Gene Hackman’s team gets to the state tournament. As the team walks into the field house for the first time, Hackman’s character is aware that the team feels overwhelmed by the size of the venue. He asks the players to begin measuring the court. Little by little, they become aware that nothing about the size of the court has changed. What has changed is simply the size of the field house where they are playing.

In many respects, playing in a national or state tournament is a lot like working in health care. The magnitude of what we have to do seems greater than ever before, but the fundamentals of what we do, much like the basketball court, has not changed. Our job is to take the very best care of patients and families that we can. In our tournament, we strive to BE THE BEST!

When I lived in Madison, Wisconsin, the basketball players had to run the hills on the outskirts of the city. Day after day, up and down the hills the players ran. It was not exciting; in fact, it was probably very boring, but year after year, the Wisconsin Badger’s conditioning pays off. Through hard training and practice, under the leadership of Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has become a regular contender in the Road to the Final Four. Last year, they made it to the Final Four.

When I was at the University of Kansas, Coach Ted Owens made his players shoot free throw after free throw, and often it was their predictable free throw shooting that made the difference in their wins. Again, this repetition and daily practice wasn’t glamorous, nor as entertaining as racing down the court, crossover dribbling behind one’s back and dunking the ball, but it was the difference that made the win for the Kansas Jayhawks.

In health care, we condition ourselves through practice—doing the same thing, the same way, every time. That consistency is a must in health care. It is when we deviate from the plan, when we decide that we can do something better than the way we were trained, that we end up not doing well. As we practice doing something over and over, we get better at it, and therefore provide safer care to our patients. Whether it is calling time outs, or reviewing and signing patient histories and physicals, whether it’s gelling our hands before and after entering a patient room, or developing our budgets, training and consistency pays off for our patients and provides the underpinning to BE THE BEST.

As you think about your work this week, what do you need to practice or have your team practice to assure our progress toward the goal – TO BE THE BEST?

“I stick with the fundamentals. The basics.”

—Bo Ryan