Identifying team-player traits and encouraging collaborative behavior, specifically in physicians

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Q: What are the characteristics of a team player, specifically in physicians? How can we identify these traits and encourage collaborative behavior?

A: Breakdowns in communication between caregivers during the hand-off of patients constitute about 80 percent of sentinel medical errors, according to the Joint Commission.1 This critical patient safety issue can lead to patient harm, readmissions, incorrect treatment and increased length of stay. It’s no wonder many efforts are underway to improve communications and processes with tools, training and measurement.

Organizations ranging from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (e.g., TeamSTEPPS) and the Joint Commission Center for Transforming Healthcare (e.g., Hand-off Communications Targeted Solutions Tool) to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (e.g., SBAR Toolkit) offer resources to improve team communication and ultimately enhance performance. Elements of Crew Resource Management (CRM), an aviation-based model, are incorporated into some resource programs. CRM principles also are used independently for infection, prevention, high-risk situations and such. The American College of Physician Executives provides more individualized coursework and programs.

In healthcare, a physician(s) charts the course of treatment and leads a crew through (one hopes) a successful voyage. It makes sense to ensure the captain of the ship is on board, encouraging open and consistent communications throughout a patient’s course of care. Nevertheless, all members must do their part to maintain smooth sailing.

Physician leaders who excel in collaborative environments generally are:  

  • Highly competent; confident in their own abilities, yet humble
  • Reliable and consistent in their performance
  • Open; timely communicators in sharing knowledge, information and experience
  • Cognizant of and concerned about others’ needs (from patients to teams)
  • Respectful and supportive of others and their roles
  • Willing to work within a group
  • Considerate and open-minded to multiple points of view
  • Committed to the team and working toward a common goal
  • Active listeners and participants (The latter includes being well prepared for meetings and resisting being a wallflower.)
  • Good at confronting issues and finding solutions; rational; analytical
  • Constructive criticizers
  • Comfortable with change, adapting as necessary
  • Optimistic and have a sense of humor

In the screening stages, these traits can be identified by reviewing accomplishments listed on a CV and published works (e.g., were teams involved?), reading snippets published in social media (LinkedIn and blogs), and conducting reference checks. During the interview process, questions regarding experience in team settings or projects may be asked.

Conducting an assessment also provides insight into one’s behavior, personality and/or cognitive style. These are ideal tools to employ when considering final candidates or reviewing current physicians on a given team. Multiple instruments exist, including DiSC, (which Tyler & Company uses), Hogan Personality Inventory, Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument and Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. Another avenue to consider for gauging teamwork skills among physicians on staff is to conduct 360-degree assessments that include questions about this competency.

Teamwork is an essential component of patient safety, and it is standard practice among the largest and most successful healthcare systems in the country. To be effective, the organization’s culture must embrace collaboration and have the systems/tools/processes in place to foster this type of environment.

Enhance your team with new physicians who possess collaborative traits. Assist existing captains through assessment, development plans, coaching and rewarding. Training to work in a successful team is effective if it is internally accepted, practiced, encouraged, assessed, enforced, repeated and respected. Thinking may be individual, but successful outcomes in a team environment originate from open communication and collective actions.

1 Joint Commission Perspectives®, August 2012, Volume 32, Issue 8.

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