"Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results." – Andrew Carnegie 

The renowned industrialist Andrew Carnegie may not have had healthcare on his mind when making that statement. Still, his words ring true: Medical care teams who work together harmoniously for the benefit of the patient deliver more value than any single team member could by acting alone.

The need for effective teams has never been greater due to increasing comorbidities, the complexity of specialized care, and the strain put on hospitals and providers by COVID-19.

No longer can a single healthcare provider deliver quality care that fully satisfies his or her patients. Instead, the evolution of healthcare and demand for quality care and safety necessitates a patient-centered teamwork approach.

In this post, we outline several ways to build an interdisciplinary team that maximizes all available resources—pastoral care, case managers, mental health workers, pharmacists, dietitians, and more—to relieve the burden on physicians, NP/PAs, and nurses—and ensure the delivery of comprehensive patient care.

Patient Care Delivery Teamwork Essentials

Find the Right Team Members

Creating a highly functional, interdisciplinary patient care team begins by finding the right team members. These people represent roles that best serve the team's purpose; possess specialized, complementary skill sets; and exhibit a team-oriented mindset. Look for “champions” to help this be more of a grassroots initiative (not just top-down).

(Read this list of work team member characteristics from Psychology Today to learn more about what makes a good team member.)

Understand Each Member's Role

All interdisciplinary team members must know each other's roles, responsibilities, and degree of accountability at the unit and organizational level. This knowledge provides the necessary framework to utilize each team member's clinical skills and develop a unified approach to care.

Select a Good Team Leader

In addition to being clear about each team member's roles and responsibilities, make sure the team has a good leader—someone who is collaborative, respectful, and who values each member's input—not authoritarian

Be Clear About the Team's Purpose

As Simon Sinek would say, start with why. A common purpose is the glue that binds team members together, but it can seem so self-evident it is often overlooked. The team leader should talk about the team's purpose at every opportunity and how it links to each member’s individual purpose.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality identifies four types of healthcare teams:

  • Core teams - those directly involved in caring for the patient;
  • Coordinating teams - the group responsible for operational management, coordinating functions, and resource management for core teams;
  • Contingency teams - formed to deal with emergencies or specific events (e.g., cardiac-arrest teams, disaster-response teams, etc.);
  • Ancillary teams/services - provide indirect support services to facilitate patient care, such as domestic staff, unit secretaries, or executive leadership.

Share Details About the Patient in Team Meetings

It's essential to share details about the patient during interdisciplinary meetings to ensure everyone has the same information. That includes communicating the patient's current clinical condition, care needs, and progress. This allows every team member to identify the areas of care they can impact.

Communicate Team Member Roles & Responsibilities with Patients

The lead physician, NP/PA, or nurse should communicate with the patient about each team member, how they will help the patient, and what the patient can expect from the interaction.

A capable team is one where the team members, including patients, communicate with each other and merge their observations, expertise, and decision-making responsibilities to optimize the patient’s care.

Forming a Functional Interdisciplinary Team

Psychologists have determined that effective team formation involves four phases: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

Forming is typically characterized by ambiguity and confusion. Team members may not know each other well at this point and, therefore, communicate in a superficial and impersonal manner.

Storming is the stage where conflict between team members sets in. While a collaborative, high-performing team environment will invariably face roadblocks from time to time, a willingness to work through the differences is necessary to reach the norming and performing phases.

Norming is the phase at which open communication between team members is established and the team starts to confront the task at hand. Generally accepted procedures and communication patterns are found in this phase.

Performing, the last phase, is when the team focuses all of its attention on achieving the goals. The group is now close and supportive, open and trusting, resourceful, and productive.

To illustrate the process, imagine that you want to cook an omelet. You start by opening the carton where you see all the eggs arranged in rows. That’s “forming.”

But, eggs in cartons do not make an omelet. You have to take out the ones you want, crack their shells, and empty the contents into a bowl. Think of that as the “conflict” stage or “storming.”

Next, you take a fork and blend the eggs until they are no longer separate and distinct but a common mixture. That’s “norming.”

Finally, you pour the mixture into a hot pan and begin to cook. Now, you’re “performing.” 

Depending on your omelet-making process, you end up with a dish that’s satisfying and wholesome. Translate that analogy to team-building, and you get a high-functioning team. 

Characteristics of a High-Functioning Team

Let’s borrow the mnemonic TEAMWORK from the KennethMD blog to describe the characteristics of a highly-functioning team. 

Trust – Each team member trusts the others. 

Empathic/Effective Communication – Team members communicate effectively with empathy and understanding.

Affirm – Team members value their teammates' contributions, loyalty, gifts, and uniqueness.

Meet Regularly – Teams meet routinely (e.g., weekly) to discuss patients, review and evaluate care, and build relationships.

Work Together – Highly functional teams have passed through the "storming" phase and work in concert to facilitate quality patient care.

Orderliness – Effective teams put first things first, according to KennethMD. They share common goals and priorities. 

Rest & Recharge – Team members take time out to rest and recharge. They may even spend time together outside of work.

Knowledge-Driven – Effective teams love learning, says KennethMD. They are continuously learning, in pursuit of knowledge, understanding, and application.

Impact of Interdisciplinary Teamwork

Highly functional, interdisciplinary teams impact patient care in several ways: 

Lowering mortality: A study by the National Institutes of Health found that units in which staff members perceived their teams functioning at higher stages of group development had lower than predicted mortality rates.

Increasing patient outcomes and satisfaction: The American Hospital Association (AHA) says thatwhen all clinical and non-clinical staff collaborate effectively, healthcare teams can “improve patient outcomes, prevent medical errors, enhance efficiency, and increase patient satisfaction.” 

Ensuring patient and workforce safety: Effective team communication contributes to the development and sustainability of a culture of safety for both patients and the hospital workforce, AHA says—something especially needed in the COVID-19 era. 

Conclusion

Delivering quality patient care in today's complex healthcare environment mandates the need for highly functional interdisciplinary teams. For that reason, it's in the hospital's best interest to adopt a team-based culture.

Teams that share a common purpose, communicate clearly, and are composed of professionals from across the healthcare spectrum (clinical and non-clinical alike) are vital to providing exceptional patient care.

Building effective teams is something we do well at SCP Healthand we can help your facility adopt a team-oriented culture. Contact us today to learn more.