Have you ever witnessed a staff dynamic fraught with tension so thick you could cut it with your scalpel? Do visions of your own office come to mind? Tension prevents team members from comfortably engaging not only with each other, but also with patients. Further, it leads to turnover – staff members always have the option to stay or go, and a tense environment only spins the revolving door. Turnover breeds uncertainty for the remaining employees, leading to more turnover, unraveling your most important asset – your team.
Fret not. Creating a positive team environment can be easier than losing it, and it needn’t be simply “touchy feely.” You can maintain a welcoming environment that fosters employee development and patient satisfaction with pure sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes, however, difficult conversations are called for and, as in any relationship, deliberate compromise is required. The payoff is a group functioning at a high level with members trusting each other to be honest and to hold each other accountable to a common goal. Read on to learn how to turn your disparate employees into a unified team…
Trust is a must
Healthy relationships require trust, or as Patrick Lencioni opines in 5 Dysfuntctions of a Team, “Teams that lack trust waste inordinate amounts of time and energy managing behaviors and interactions within the group.” Without trust, people do not feel safe to express, let alone challenge, each other’s ideas, ask for help, apologize, or hold each other accountable to the greater goals. Without the sense of feeling valued within the team, employees are not able to “buy in” because they become isolated in the name of self-preservation.
Relate to each other as people, not colleagues
While recognizing a problem is the first step, changing the culture of your office to solve it is the greater challenge. Start by humanizing everyone in the office – including the doctor. We get so busy with our day-to-day tasks it is easy to forget that everyone has their own personal history that affects their daily choices. Be thoughtful about a person’s individual context before reacting to a negative situation. Before blaming a nurse for a rare patient complication, remind yourself how conservative and caring she typically is in her treatment. If you are a manager frustrated because your receptionist is watching the clock, itching to dash out at 4:59 pm, remember she has to take a bus to pick up her children by 6:00 pm. Do you feel your doctor is too concerned about every single dollar spent in the practice? Remember that he was embezzled from, and has every right to be cautious. If we understand each other as people, taking into account each other’s personal histories and motivations, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, increasing trust.
Invest in some fun team activities, even if they seem insignificant. Organize a team lunch once a month and make sure the doctor attends – without relying on your medical device and pharmaceutical representatives to bring the food. The idea is to build relationships and talk about your lives without having to listen to a sales pitch. No matter what, have fun! Plan a team happy hour, a group bowling event, or run a charity race together. Allow everyone to be themselves, without the strains of the drama of the day.
Trust is a two-way street
For a team to be green and growing, not brown and dying, open discourse must thrive. Make your goals are crystal clear so everyone understands the office’s priorities and can feel they have a tangible impact on the greater good. Listen to all the ideas they have. You don’t have to implement every idea but everyone should feel heard and a part of the team. Trust works both ways. Model the behavior from the top down. Allow yourself, as the manager or doctor, to be vulnerable, and live by all the rules you set for your team. Although it’s tough for some managers to let go, you can trust team members to accomplish delegated tasks if they can perform the task 90% as well as you can. Not only does it free you up while giving employees opportunities to develop, but putting your trust in their time to shine further ties them into the team’s goals.
No one is bigger than the team
No matter how much you do to change the office culture, there is often at least one team member hiding from harmony, as we discussed in the 33rd Issue of the YellowTelescope Newsletter “Tips For Managing Difficult Employees”. Having hard conversations and changing ingrained behaviors can be difficult, but for the benefit of the team you must deal with the issues head-on. Otherwise, the trust of the team is broken, people begin to disengage and stop holding each other, and themselves, accountable. If one employee sees another show up consistently late without repercussion, they might think, “The rules don’t apply to Suzy, so what does it matter if I am 10 minutes late?” Just like a football team, no one player is bigger than the rules and everyone functions within the same guidelines. As our own Senior Director, Jill, a diehard New England Patriots fan, would say, “The Pats are the greatest team of all time – not a bad model to follow.”
By establishing trust within the office, you are building a healthy team and an environment where people believe in what they are doing and who they are working with. To discuss your team culture and how we might be able to help you be more effective, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.