Team Players

Molly Rowe, Senior Editor, Leadership , October 5, 2007

I'm not breaking news when I say teams are important. But teamwork in healthcare means more than just financial strength and competitive advantage. It means patient and employee satisfaction, regulatory compliance, and safe patients.

The best leaders know their shortcomings and surround themselves with people who make up for them. Every day I talk to at least one healthcare executive who raves about her team; the team attributes are usually the same: Communication. Big-picture thinking. Decision-making ability. Dissatisfaction with status quo. Here are a few others that I've heard in healthcare:

Willingness to admit mistakes: At Harvard University's annual Quality Colloquium in August, Amy Edmondson, a Harvard Business School Professor and teamwork expert, presented her findings on the relationship between teamwork and errors in hospitals. Like most of us, Edmondson assumed that better teams would mean fewer mistakes. She was surprised to find that hospitals with well-led, cohesive teams actually had higher error rates. These teams weren't actually making more mistakes--they were just more open about reporting them.

Openness: Teams shouldn't be made up of bobbleheads who nod in agreement, no matter what their leader says. In the September issue of HealthLeaders magazine, my colleague Kathryn Mackenzie wrote about CHRISTUS Health in Irving, TX, a 2007 Top Leadership Teams Winner. Over the past 8 years, CHRISTUS' president and CEO Thomas C. Royer, MD, has helped the troubled system overcome financial loss, disappointing quality performance, and poor patient and employee satisfaction. Royer told my colleague that a key part of that turnaround was openness.

"In order to maximize brain power and people power, we started teaching and embracing what I call 'professional backtalking.' We want our team members to push back and tell us honestly and openly what's working and what could work better so we as a team can come to a consensus about what needs to be done to improve.

"Innovation: Successful organizations change, adapt, and innovate almost daily. Effective leaders know that innovation isn't just a one-man job. At Wright Medical Center in Clarion, IA, (another Top Leadership Team winner), innovation starts with staff. Each employee at the 25-staffed-bed hospital must submit suggestions to improve hospital service, quality, growth, or finances. Staff's "bright ideas" are tied to employee evaluations and pay raises.

Next week I'll be attending HealthLeaders Media's Top Leadership Teams in Healthcare Annual Conference and Awards in Chicago. These hospital winners know better than anyone the attributes of a good team. How about you? Be it through meetings, mission statements, or policies, I'd love to hear how you facilitate better teamwork.

Note: If you'd like to join me at next week's Top Leadership Teams in Healthcare conference in Chicago on October 11 and 12, there's still time to register for the conference.

Molly Rowe is leadership editor with HealthLeaders magazine. She can be reached at

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