The recent snow and ice which descended upon Richmond brought a fair amount of inconvenience into our lives. Daily routines had to be adjusted to accommodate for the closing of schools, reduced work hours and access to certain services. Extra energy had to be put into preparing for the possibility of being without power. Most of this was unwelcome. However, I did discover the “up” side to this inclement weather – a bit of down time! I had thought ahead and charged my laptop in case the power went out. So, after expending a good bit of energy preparing to be shut in for a couple of days, I finally found myself alone reflecting on some events of the previously week and how they related to the business of groups and teams.
Week before last I found myself in the emergency room with my husband. To make a long story short, he ending up being admitted for chest pain and after several days, a stress test and cardiac catheterization, left the hospital with two stents and plans for another procedure in the near future. As all of this unfolded, I had ample opportunity to observe a number of medical teams in action. Some were very high functioning teams. A few, however, were not. I found myself reflecting on Levi’s (2014) material on groups and teams and wondering how it might apply.
As I pondered all this, I realized that in the medical world there are special challenges for teams in developing cohesiveness and cooperation. For example, although the function of a team from day to day may be consistent, the members of that team may vary from day to day, depending upon the varying schedules of the healthcare individuals who make up that team. Thus, building team cohesion and cooperation through social interactions, presents some special challenges. In the medical field, there can be high stakes associated with the effective performance of teams. Patient safety may be a stake. So, in a case where team members have little or no time to get to know one another or build trust and cohesion, what are the essential elements these teams must possess in order to be effective? Are there approaches and/or strategies which may be applied to compensate for the limited time in developing team cohesion, communication and effectiveness?
I can’t say that I was able to answer these questions, but there were a few elements of teamwork which seemed prevalent among the most effective observed. Specifically, effective teams seemed to exhibit the following:
1) Common goals
2) Effective communication
3) Cooperation and interdependence
Levi (2014) sums up the importance of each of these three critical elements of teamwork in Chapter Five.
A successful team has members who work together to reach a common goal. This common goal provides a focus for the team. However, when team members compete against one another, individual goals can conflict with the team goal. Conflict exists between doing what is best for the individual to succeed (by being better than the others) and doing what is best for the team. (p. 86)
The distrust created by mixed goals leads to reduced communication within a team. Communication requires trust; without trust, there is no reason to communicate with others. Over time, internal competition reduces communication within the team. (p. 86)
The benefits of cooperation at work depend in part on the task. Cooperation is more important when tasks are ambiguous, complex, or changing (Tjosvold, 1995). Such tasks require substantial information sharing to determine the best way to perform them. Because they require coordination, cooperation also is more important when tasks are interdependent and team members need to rely on each other. (p. 89)
This experience, by no means, illustrated teamwork in the medical field in a comprehensive manner. It did provide some examples upon which to reflect and apply some of our readings from this course. And, it drove home the importance of the team contract which our class teams are working on this week. Finally, as I searched YouTube for examples of effective teamwork, I learned that nature has some wisdom to share with us on this topic as illustrated here. It seems there are examples of teamwork all around and a little inclement weather provided just the opportunity to reflect upon a few of these!
Levi, D. (2014) Group Dynamics for Teams, Los Angeles, SAGE Publications.