7 Strategies to Build Stronger Healthcare Teams in 2021

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Stronger healthcare teamOne thing is universal – everyone is glad 2020 is over! However, just because we’ve turned the page on a terrible chapter, doesn’t mean 2021 will be any better, especially in healthcare when we are still very actively battling the pandemic. But there is hope. We’re now experiencing a palpable shift in people’s perspectives, attitudes, and mindsets even though cases are still rising. It’s because now we can all see the finish line. And although we know that things will probably get a bit worse before they get better, like a marathon runner who finds the strength to run that last mile, the key to truly making 2021 a better year is to build stronger healthcare teams right now.

How to Build Stronger Healthcare Teams

Over the years working with healthcare teams, I’ve noticed a pattern of actions that leaders and their teams take to make sure they’re always equipped and ready to face any challenges thrown their way whether it be a natural disaster, like a hurricane, fire, or tornado; or a global pandemic. If this pandemic has taught us anything it’s that the best way to overcome a challenge, especially one of epic proportions, is as a team.

Here are 7 strategies a few of my colleagues and I believe create stronger healthcare teams:

1. Create opportunities for team members to find things in common

Camaraderie is the mutual trust and friendliness that develops between people who spend a lot of time together and it’s a critical component of teamwork. To build camaraderie, individual members of teams must find things in common with one another that have nothing to do with work. When teammates can connect over a mutual love of running, or having kids the same age, for example, they access each other’s humanity in ways that work-related interactions can’t produce. Shared by Joe Mull, M.Ed, CSP.

Incorporate ways to spark interaction between employees that isn’t about work. 

Click here to learn how you can be a better boss from Joe. 

2. Inspire a culture of gratitude

Showing gratitude towards all members of the healthcare team can help people feel valued and appreciated. Imagine how it would feel if a physician thanked a nursing assistant for taking such good care of their patient or an experienced nurse thanked a new nurse for their help. As a leader, inspiring a culture of gratitude starts with you. Shared by Diane Salter, MSN, RN, CPAN, NE-BC, HWI Consultant.

Every day, find one person whom you can express gratitude for who they are and what they do. 

3. Break down the silos by recognizing other teams

Silos in healthcare, let’s just say, have pretty thick walls!! Silos exist between roles (nurses, physicians, technicians, etc.) and between departments (pharmacy, ICU versus medsurg, etc.). We often forget that every person in every department can somehow be linked to the same patient (ever hear of the degrees of Kevin Bacon?). Therefore, we all play an important role in patient care and need to start acting like it. Recognizing someone from a different department can be the start of breaking down these long-standing silos.

Notice someone’s good work who is NOT in your department. Congratulate them and share this in an email with their boss and with your team. During huddles or monthly meetings, give kudos to a sister department or share a positive comment about pharmacy, radiology, or dietary. The key is to reinforce and remind your team that they’re not the ONLY team that matters. Building stronger healthcare teams beyond one department strengthen the entire organization. Shared by Dr. Mitchell Kusy, HWI Consultant.

4. Avoid the Communication Triangle

It’s much easier to talk to your co-worker about the behavior of a 3rd colleague instead of addressing it directly. Many leaders want to be problem solvers and feel good when they can jump in to help work out a disagreement. This causes the Communication Triangle and isn’t a healthy team behavior. It weakens trust and builds walls. 

The next time one of your direct reports approaches you complaining about something a co-worker did (or didn’t) do, ask “What did Co-worker <Name> say when you talked to her?” Nine times out of 10, the team member will say…”I haven’t talked to her.” This is a great opportunity to coach on assertive communication and role-play how to have to directly address behaviors. When members of a team are comfortable addressing challenges in real time, the team gets stronger and results improve. Shared by Vicki Hess, RN, MS, CTP, CVP

To learn how to improve employee engagement from Vicki, click here.

5. Show your team that you care about them as individuals

People will accept negative feedback and will follow you anywhere if they first believe you care about them. I’ve said this so many times to the leaders I work with – Be tough on standards and tender with your people. 

Schedule a 1:1 with each employee. Ask this question – What matters most to you right now? And then incorporate what matters to them into conversations. For example, if an experienced nurse says that getting her advanced degree is most important, then ask about what class she is taking this semester and if there is anything you can do to support her – might be accommodating her through scheduling. 

6. Make self-care a habit

To build stronger healthcare teams, leaders must sincerely care for their staff and offer them specific tools and programs for self-care. This is proven to instill trust, boost morale, decrease burnout, and increase retention. Just as negativity and incivility can spread through your department like wildfires if left unattended, so can positivity, resilience, and well-being.

Incorporate self-care tips during huddles. Ask your teams what they are doing to care for themselves. And, be the role model for self-care by sharing how YOU are incorporating wellness into your life (stop “bragging” about not getting enough sleep!). Shared by Leanne Thieman, CSP, CPAE

Click here to learn more about self-care for healthcare from LeAnn. 

7. Make giving and receiving constructive feedback a habit

I saved the best for last. High performing, professional, and respectful teams consistently go out of their way to improve as individuals and as a team. Like the collective powerful fist, each “finger” plays a role. Good teams know this and don’t get defensive when receiving feedback – they embrace it as part of their improvement plan. Great teams actively seek feedback.

Ask your teams consistently – What do we need to work on (team)? What’s one thing that I can do better (leader)? What’s one thing you’re working on right now (individual)?  You can’t build stronger healthcare teams without establishing a culture where giving and receiving feedback is the norm.

We all want 2021 to be a better year. Actually, that’s an understatement! And it is possible even if this pandemic drags on for most of this year too. It’s possible when leaders and their teams take the actions necessary to help them become stronger and better despite what’s happening around them. One thing 2020 has taught us is that there are some things beyond our control. However, you do have control over how you and your teams show up every day.

We’re not out of the woods just yet and therefore, it’s even more important now that we take deliberate action to strengthen our healthcare teams so that when we do cross the finish line, they’ll still have the ability to celebrate and carry on. Maybe even take a well-earned vacation!


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