For more than 10 years, we’ve been working with healthcare leaders and their teams to create a healthy workplace by first, addressing bullying and incivility. Over time, we’ve notice patterns of behaviors and attributes common in departments that, well, really didn’t need our help because they had already built a healthy team. On the contrary, in departments that were “begging” for help, these attributes were missing – sometimes all together, but most often, they were deficient in a few, but those few were significant enough to negatively affect the entire department.
Here are 8 Attributes to Cultivate a Healthy Team:
While doing training for healthcare leaders on the topic of bullying and incivility, about halfway through, a woman in the back of the room stood up and proclaimed, “I’m the bully.” Her assistant managers, who were sitting on both sides of her, quickly jumped to her defense. “No, you’re not. You’re just a bit direct.” This leader again proclaimed, “I’m telling you. I’m the bully. That’s me up there (referring to the list of bullying behaviors on the screen).” But again, her colleagues defended her innocence until finally, they both said, “Okay. You are the bully, but we’ve been too afraid to tell you!”
Culture change, therefore, always starts with heightening awareness. After all, you can’t expect people to adapt their behavior if they’re not aware their behavior needs to be adapted.
Download a simple self-assessment you can use to heighten awareness with your team. Just click here.
Every role is valued
I once worked with a trauma physician who was well respected by everyone in the organization. Why? Because he valued everyone’s role. He didn’t care if you were the CEO, CIO, CFO, any of those Os or the dietary aide passing trays. He didn’t care if you were the cardiothoracic surgeon bringing that organization a lot of revenue, or the housekeeper cleaning toilets. He valued everyone because he said, “It takes everyone in every role to effectively care for these patients the way we would want ourselves and our loved ones cared for.”
One of the reasons we see higher incidents of disruptive behaviors in healthcare is because of our steeped hierarchy. And who is at the bottom of this perceived hierarchy? Support staff. However, with a healthy team, all roles are valued.
Kindness – no matter what
According to David Hamilton, a PhD prepared organic chemist who advocates for kindness in the workplace, spreading kindness provides compounding benefits in the workplace. Kindness isn’t just a right brained, hippie, “let’s hold hands together and sing kum ba yah” tactic. Neuroscience proves that in spreading a culture of kindness, you rewrite the story of your department.
Although cruelty and negativity exist in humanity, we are actually hardwired to serve and help others. We get a biological reward when we extend kindness toward another human through the release of endorphins that produce a “helper’s high.” Our brains are equipped and ready to respond with a release of chemicals that reinforce kindness, collaboration, and cooperation with others. Again, despite what you see on the news and what might be happening in your department, humans are wired for kindness.
Kindness inspires others to be kind, creating a ripple effect. Like seed pods from a plant that the wind gently blows and scatters to neighboring yards, when we scatter kindness, we can watch it grow.
If you want to start a kindness revolution in your department, click here.
Many of us recognize this term from the popular Japanese “Kaizen” business management practice that suggests subtle and gradual improvements over time. And guess what? It works just as well in healthcare as it does in manufacturing companies. However, we often don’t look at our work through a lens of processes and practices that can be improved.
A healthy team looks for ways to improve.
Imagine if every person on your team took responsibility for continued learning through formal and informal education. If every person on your team took it upon themselves to improve their performance (without constant nagging from you), how would that improve the overall team’s performance? How would that transform your culture?
Ask your team these questions when you want to improve something, “What’s one thing that if we did it, would make everything else easier?”
Make continuous improvement “the way we do business here” until it becomes a habit.
Ongoing and relentless feedback
Giving negative feedback to anyone, especially a colleague at work can be so uncomfortable to the point where even highly educated professionals avoid it like the plague. Two primary reasons are because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings or we’re afraid of how they will react. Therefore, we do what’s comfortable – we just don’t say anything. As a result, we resort to gossip or complaining about someone behind their back.
However, when members of a healthcare team aren’t willing to give and receive negative feedback, their personal growth and the overall strength of the team suffers.
Great teams make giving feedback, positive and constructive, a habit.
Honest and respectful communication
Communicating effectively is a core skill all healthcare employees need to provide safe, high quality, compassionate care to patients. The way everyone communicates with each other is just as important as the clinical care they provide. While we each have our own natural communication style, the only style we should use in healthcare is the assertive style.
This style offers a healthy balance of both honesty and respect. This is a direct, strong, and calm style of communication and focuses on achieving a healthy compromise that respects everyone involved. This assertive style, without contest, is the most effective for healthcare.
The good news is that assertive communication can be developed. Healthy teams continuously work to improve the way they communicate with each other.
Click here to learn more about our eLearning Skill Development Content.
Willingness to speak up
The most powerful intervention to stop the cycle of bullying is for the WITNESS to speak up – not the target. Yet, many people just don’t speak up. A healthy team creates an environment where everyone is willing to speak up when witnessing bad practice or bad behavior. The term is sometimes referred to as psychological safety, coined by Amy Edmonson, whose research showed improved outcomes when healthcare leaders created an environment where every member of the team was willing to speak up even if they weren’t comfortable.
Psychological safety means, “I’m willing to speak up to you even though I’m uncomfortable doing so.”
Healthy teams speak up – no matter what.
Everyone holds each other accountable – not just the boss
One of my clients, a manager in an ICU, asked for my advice on a situation. Her experienced nurse complained about substandard care he witnessed by one of his peers. She asked, “Did you say anything to her?” to which he replied, “No. That’s ‘management’s’ job.” The manager asked how she should handle a comment like that.
I reminded her of a “Jedi mind trick” I use often. Any time you can agree with someone who is being difficult, agree with them. I told her to say, “You’re right! It IS ‘management’s job’ to address these issues [dramatic pause] in a low functioning, poor performing, dysfunctional team. But in a high functioning, high performing, strong, healthy team, everyone holds each other accountable for performance and conduct.”
You know you’ve established a healthy workplace when employees stop coming to you for every problem and the default is that they hold each other accountable first.
Compare your culture to the attributes listed above. What attribute does your team need to work on to become a healthy team?