This week, I was reminded of a time in the past when I worked on a leadership team that did not function as well as it could have. We were a diverse group of people from many different backgrounds with a wide array of professional expertise. Individually, we were all really good at what we did, and we all accomplished a lot within the departments we directed. As a leadership team, we even had a pretty clear idea of what our individual responsibilities were; however, we did not work well together to accomplish our shared goal.
We all knew what we were working toward, but we became frustrated when we did not progress quickly enough to the end result. So, we each started doing our own thing, according to our own leadership styles. Pretty soon, everyone was confused because there was so much duplicative work. No one seemed to know what the other was doing, and as a consequence, teams across the organization didn’t know what they needed to do to contribute to the goal or who was supposed to be doing what. I knew in my heart that the employees’ frustration was justified. So, I made a decision—I could allow this lack of coordination to continue, or I could try reshaping the team so that we worked together more effectively. I decided to do the latter.
As the team worked hard to come to an agreement, we conducted an exercise that involved completing a questionnaire to help identify our preferred working styles. It also honed in on how we each responded to stress in the workplace. Many of you have probably taken similar questionnaires, and you were categorized as a combination of letters or a certain color, like yellow, blue, green or red, which defined how you normally acted, as well as how you acted under stress. For example, if you were categorized as yellow, it meant you were generally process driven—a sequential thinker. If you were categorized as blue, it meant you were a “people person” who generally tried to understand everyone’s point of view and tried to get people to work together. Green meant you were a planner and strategist who was easily bored with details. If you were red, you were a detail-oriented person.
When our team shared their predominant color for our normal work mode, we had a great blend of the colors—something all teams should have. We had a people person, a planner, the process-oriented person, and detail-oriented team members. But what happened when we were under stress was really interesting. We were all in the red category. This meant that under stress, we all approached our work from the same point of view, and we didn’t have the important input from the sequential thinkers, the planners or the outgoing people with strong communication skills.
To really emphasize to our group how the organization was affected when this happened, I put tape on the floor so that we had four clear quadrants. I then asked everyone to stand in their respective color quadrant, exactly as the survey tool had placed us in “normal mode”. The closer someone was to the center, the more they reflected traits from multiple quadrants; the further away one was, the more strongly they reflected a single working style.
Under normal circumstances, we were all pretty well distribute across the colors. But when I asked everyone to occupy their stress quadrant in the exact placement the survey depicted, the result explained everything—we were all deep into the red, trying to occupy each other’s space. No wonder the employees said they were confused! In stress mode, our leadership team each tried to take charge, and to the organization, this seemed as if no one was in charge.
Why do I tell you think story? If we are going to achieve Best Care, we need everyone in the organization to contribute their unique talents and working styles to the team. Whether you are mostly a planner, a people person, a strategist or an operational process person, we need all of you contributing to reaching Best Care by August 31, 2017.
So what can you do?
- Make sure that you understand your primary role on the team – whether you are on a patient care team or an operational team. Your position description provides guidance on your job, but what is your role on the care team? If you are not sure, your manager or leader should help you better understand your role and the contribution you can make to Best Care.
- If you are a manager or leader, your job is to have clarity about how your area can most effectively contribute to Best Care, and then make sure that everyone knows they are on the team and what their role should be.
It is so important that we try to stay in our “normal” mode at work, because if we are operating under stress, we may not be able to contribute to our teams in a positive way, or we may create a situation where our environment could potentially become unsafe. Dr. Gary Grody defined stress this way: “Stress is defined as an inability, or the perception that you are unable, to take control of your life. If you feel in control, even if you’re not but you perceive you are, you won’t feel the stress.”
We all have high hopes for what UTMB Health can achieve over the next year as we work toward our goal of Best Care. We are already beginning to emerge as a leading academic medical center in many ways—we have experienced unprecedented growth and are performing better than most in many areas. Now, to deliver the Best Care to every patients, every time, we must remain focused on what we want to happen as an organization.
We will be rapidly moving toward our goal, so let’s remember to continue working together steadily as a team toward the goal, even in the face of challenges or frustration. Zig Ziglar says, “When obstacles arise, you change your direction to reach your goal; you do not change your decision to get there.” We must identify the areas in which we can make a change and come up with creative solutions to move the needle. We have an opportunity to become a model healthcare organization, and teamwork, focus and effective communication will be critical to improving the health and well being of all we serve!