Military Method To Transform Your Healthcare Team

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If I walked into your unit right now and asked every employee what the mission of your unit was, I would probably get a dozen different answers. For some nurses, their goal might be to get everything done on their task list. For others, it might be to care for patients as if they were their own precious family. But as you know, for a few, their goal is to do the least amount possible, get the easiest patients, and not get any admissions!

I once worked with a nurse whose primary goal during a 12-hour shift was NOT to get an admission. Seriously, she would do everything she could to delay transferring her patient to the medsurg unit (I worked Neurosurgical Step-Down) until 30 minutes before the end of her shift. When I was in charge, I constantly reminded her that she needed to move her patients so that she could admit a post-op patient who was waiting for a bed. She gave me every excuse in the world – the bed’s not ready, I tried to give report but the nurse was at lunch, the family wanted the patient to stay for a little while longer – on and on. One day after getting a litany of her excuses, I actually walked up to the receiving unit and found that the bed had been ready for hours and that the receiving nurse had never gotten a call from her. BUSTED!

Think about the time and energy I spent trying to get her to transfer her patient – time and energy I could have used to care for patients. Oh, by the way, I had my own assignment too. Think about those patients in the recovery room who were waiting for a bed and their families who were waiting to see them. In Peter Senge’s book, The Fifth Discipline, he talks about alignment; that when everyone is making decisions based on one primary goal, it takes less energy and you get things done faster. However, when everyone is running amok doing their own thing based on their own goals, the result is wasted energy and unproductive time.

This nurse made decisions based on what was best for HER – not the team and not the patients. I bet you’ve worked with someone who is like this too.

I recently read an article about teamwork and this particular excerpt really struck me:“After dinner at the Quantico officers’ club, a Marine general explains to the MBA students that in combat a commander must unequivocally commit to two objectives: (1) Accomplish the mission, and (2) Bring all your people back from the battlefield, whatever their condition. Mission first, then team, then self.”

When I read this, I had an ‘ah-ha!’ moment. Think about it. Mission first, then team, then self. The nurse I worked with who kept trying to avoid an admission had it backwards. She focused on self, THEN the team and THEN the mission.

I think many other nurses get it backwards too. Perhaps the answer lies in how the military makes decisions.

A military mission is a coordinated effort by teams made up of individuals, all working together to accomplish a given mission. The mission always comes first. The team mission is second in that it takes a team to accomplish most missions. Individuals in the team must also focus and train on accomplishing not only the team mission, but the overall mission, putting self interest aside.


Every unit should have a mission – a goal – something that drives decision-making. Well I know that every organization has a mission, vision, and a values statement, but it’s also important for each specific unit to create a specific mission (or you could call it a mantra) that conveys what they do. I’ve worked with organizations to create  professional and supportive work environments and one of the activities we do is to create a mission/mantra statement.

This is one the staff created for a recovery room:

Our mission is to recover patients from anesthesia safely, then efficiently transfer them to the next level of care.

Here is one from a medsurg unit:

To always make decisions based on what’s best for our patients and each other.

Why not create one on YOUR unit?

[easy-tweet tweet=”Want to create a strong team that serves patients well? Try creating a unit mission statement. “]


Nurses tend to get myopic when it comes to their work. My patients – my shift – my unit – my organization. They fail to see how everything they do or don’t do has a trickle down effect on everyone else, thereby, affecting the mission too. How many times have you referred to one of your coworkers as lazy or only doing what they absolutely have to do? The nurse who re-times all of her medications for the next shift so she doesn’t have to deal with them or like my colleague who would hang onto her patient so she didn’t have to get an admission. Think about how that selfish behavior impacts the team as a whole. Because it does.

I was a clinical instructor and would take a group of students onto a unit. Our first day together I told them that when they were done with their work, BEFORE they were allowed to sit down, they had to check with every other student to see if they needed help. Then, they had to check with every nurse on the unit, and then they had to check with the support staff. Only when they offered to help everyone on the unit, could they take a break.

TEAM – then SELF.


Nursing is a service profession. We are inconvenienced every day we walk into work.  Think about it. We should all be making decisions based on what’s best for the patients – not ourselves. About 6 months ago, the coordinator where I work apologized because she had to give me an admission. I said, “That’s what I’m here for. To get admissions.” But the truth is, my INSIDE voice said, “Crap. I have to get an admission!” I had just gotten caught up and didn’t feel like getting a new patient. However, like it or not, taking care of patients takes priority over our own needs.

SELF should be last.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Nursing is a service profession. Your priorities should be patient, team, self. In that order.”]

There is another concept in the military that we can adopt in healthcare, “Mission first, people always.” It’s difficult to accomplish the mission when your people are distracted or not motivated or are motivated by the wrong things. A leader must know how to take care of their people so those people can complete the mission. If a team member is toxic, having issues at home, or is ill; they need to be taken care of so they can help the team complete the mission.

As nurses, our overall MISSION should focus on providing extraordinary care to patients and their families. However, it’s the little missions we face on a daily basis, accomplished by a passionate and committed team that results in a successful outcome, like winning a war.


Thanks so much for reading!

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected. 

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8 thoughts on “Military Method To Transform Your Healthcare Team”

  1. Grace RiordAn R.N. excellent

    Excellent concept! While reading another nurse’s tweet on Twitter, I came across your article 3 Military mindsets. I am excited to share this tool with my workplace Facility, and look forward to including brainstorming our team’s own mission at one of our next monthly meetings if not sooner. Additionally, would like to connect on LinkedIn. Thank-you.

    1. Hi Grace. Thanks so much!! I’m glad you also found my article on military mindsets helpful and that you’re sharing with your team! I also host a YouTube video series called, “Coffee and Conversations” that you might find valuable. Many organizations will show them at meetings and then use to discuss their current environment. Let me know if I can help! We all need to do our part to stop the cycle of bullying and incivility.

      1. Grace Riordan, RN

        Renee, I’d like to thank-you for your response to my comment. The ” Coffee and Conversations” You-Tube videos sound like a unique and informative tool. Definitely will bookmark this on my You-tube library list.

        1. You’re welcome! I do take requests so let me know if there is any question I can answer for you or situation you want me to address. TYTYTY!!

    1. Thanks Ruth! We can all relate to that one nurse who clearly makes decisions based on what’s best for him or her! Not okay as nurses.

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