We’ve all had experiences of working in a team. The best ones that stick in my mind are the simple ones. Normally there are a few different people and we are all on a relatively equal footing. I also think it makes it easier when everyone in the group has a similar working style.
But for every good team I’ve been in, I can think of a bad one too. Whether you were the student who ended up doing 90% of the group presentation, or whether you’ve spent whole meetings just trying to get a word in, it’s not too difficult to come up with a list of scenarios that would make you consider giving up and going it alone.
But what happens when these teams are the ones responsible for your healthcare?
The NHS is the fifth largest employer in the world. In fact, it’s the only employer from Europe that even makes the top ten list, with 2.5% of the UK’s population being an NHS employee at any given time. So it’s easy to forget that this huge monolith of an organisation is actually just people navigating through a messy Venn diagram of overlapping teams.
The NHS is not immune to the problems of team working either. Add in some constraints around money, location or time and I can understand why integrated collaborative working within the NHS can be patchy.
What makes a good team?
There are many schools of thought on what makes a good team. I firmly believe that teams need to have an identity beyond a given name. Telling a group of people “you’re now an STP” doesn’t mean they are going to become what you need them to be. There needs to be something stronger that binds people together when the work gets difficult.
Individuals within teams also need to be given time to shine. They need their own responsibilities and to know how these fit harmoniously within the wider group. Unnaturally forcing a patient into a team because you need to tick a patient engagement box will not fill them with confidence. But giving them real opportunities and showing that they are valuable will deliver real results.
Most importantly, teams need to be united by a common purpose. Competing interests have no place in collaborative team working (that’s what committees are for). By putting both the patient and the need to deliver high quality care at the heart of their group purpose, healthcare teams will be able to deliver much better results, much faster.
Pseudo teams lead to pseudo improvements
But the reality is there are many ways in which a team can become counterproductive. A previously effective team can quickly become a pseudo-team if it’s not nurtured.
There are lots of definitions of a pseudo-team but it’s often characterised as a group of people who despite calling themselves a team, have different interpretations on the group objectives, whose tasks mean they normally work alone, and who have no focus on achievement. Pseudo-teams are low impact and low performance the NHS’s own figures show that employees in poorly functioning pseudo-teams have lower job satisfaction, are more likely to make a mistake, and highly likely to quit their jobs.
When you have a supported team with diverse members and fulfilled staff, patient satisfaction is higher, innovation is better, staff are happier and – most importantly – patient mortality rates are lower. Good teams literally save lives!
Happier staff, healthier people
We need to remember that the core of the NHS is people. And just like we’ve all been in bad team situations, there are bound to be multidisciplinary collaborative healthcare teams that are facing challenges too. Wanting to give up on bad teams is understandable, but when the benefits of a good teams result in better outcomes for patients and staff, we can’t allow giving up to be an option.