How to Improve Teamwork in Your Practice

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TeamworkTeamwork is a requisite for the success of your medical practice. Without good teamwork, your practice can appear to be disorganized and unprofessional. Your patients need to feel like they are in good hands and are taken care of from the moment they step through your doors.

Teamwork often fails when there is a lack of communication between you and your employees; unclear tasks and priorities; little accountability; poor training; and a lack of clearly defined goals.

It’s just not possible to build a successful organization without teamwork,” says Tim Ryan, vice president of marketing for YouEarnedIt, a SaaS HR technology platform that redefines the way companies engage with their employees. “Sure, you can have individual superstar performers who make an enormous difference. But, they’re nothing without contributions from others involved in the entire process of serving a customer or patient. Moreover, the innovation that comes from joining ideas from multiple brains far exceeds what one can create alone. The collaborative environment challenges team members to be more innovative and productive.”

There are several ways you can improve teamwork in your office so your practice can portray a better image to patients as well as improve office morale.

Win as a team

For Ryan, improving your teamwork starts with your core values. Specifically, he says, with a value called “eyes on the prize,” where all employees are encouraged to win as a team.

“Posting our core values on a break room wall isn’t enough, though,” he says. “We’ve integrated them into our digital employee recognition and reward program where employees can publicly recognize—and reward—their peers for behaviors aligned with our core values and business objectives.” 

A special bond and heightened level of trust develop when employees are empowered to dole out appreciation in this manner. The recognition validates one’s effort and willingness to collaborate, he adds. The fact that the recognition is public also gives leadership insight into who’s doing great work. Other employees also notice the shared recognition, which further reinforces the desired behaviors.

“On Friday afternoons, some of our teams choose to hold brainstorming sessions,” he says. “The meetings are informal and follow a single tenet—there are no dumb ideas. Employees are empowered to come up with a topic and kick around ideas. These fun and energizing sessions produce several new product and process ideas that translate into potential business growth.”

In addition, his company offers a feature within its employee reward catalog called point pooling. It allows employees to pool their recognition points for group rewards like team yoga or hikes. Others combine their points for charitable causes, volunteer efforts, 10k race fees, or warm chocolate chip cookies delivered to the office.

“The new generation of employees demands meaningful and individualized rewards like these,” says.

Hold regular staff meetings

Kathi Elster of K Squared Enterprises in New York, NY, suggests regular staff meetings that combine everyone—administrative and medical where your staff is empowered to discuss any issues they may be having in the office. In a small office where the main purpose is to assist the patient, it’s best if everyone is focused on the same goal of helping one another achieve that common goal.

“It’s important for both sides to hear how what they do or say may affect others, then new solutions can be created together,” she says. “Teamwork that is focused on the common goal is more effective, because the team will cooperate with one another better, rather then each person only being out for themselves.”

When a small office is a high function team rather then a leader and separate individuals, Elster says the patients know that they can talk to anyone making their entire experience easier and more pleasant.

“We also know that when team members are angry with one another they spend a lot of their time acting out at each other causing inefficiency,” she says.

Empower your employees

Leadership must set the vision and help employees set their individual goals to accomplish desired results. This requires training especially in communication and motivation, according to Jerry S. Siegel, president of JASB Management Inc. In Syosset, NY, a management consulting firm specializing in leadership and organizational development. Helping team members grow and develop more of their talents and abilities is motivating and can help achieve workplace excellence.

“When employees are properly trained, motivated and coached, clearly understand what is expected of them, have the information they need to perform effectively and are rewarded in appropriate ways, they will perform better and be more productive,” says Siegel.

Siegel believes that effective teamwork increases productivity and profitability while helping to retain good people who must be continually appreciated and recognized for outstanding performance.

“Decisions need to be made at the lowest level by empowering people, the organization’s greatest asset,” says Siegel. “Leaders need to coach, challenge and confront inappropriate behavior while providing continual feedback on performance in addition to setting a good example. They also need to connect with their people and help them identify areas in which to improve.”

Treat all employees with the same respect

Teamwork in any organization requires everyone to value and acknowledge the role of each team member in the organization. The receptionist at the front desk is just as important as the medical biller in the back office. 

“If the receptionist doesn’t request the correct insurance information from the patient at check-in, it will make the medical biller’s  job a lot more difficult when processing the bills,” says Nancy Mobley, chief executive officer at Insight Performance, Inc., a Boston-based company that provides HR solutions. “If everyone values each other’s roles, they will work better as a team.”

Mobley also recommends creating an environment in which team members feel comfortable asking each other for help.  And in turn, when you see a team member overwhelmed, create a work environment where team members recognize this and offer to help each other out. In addition, she says to be open to accepting feedback from team members about how things could be done better or how behaviors can be improved.

“Listen and encourage employees to have new ideas on how to function better as a team,” she says. “Encourage open communication among the team to improve processes. Make sure to incorporate feedback from employees on the front lines since they usually can identify better ways to operate.”

Clearly outline responsibilities and processes

Success in any business is achieved by having the right team and the right business systems in place. When everyone in the team has the goal of improving the business systems, it will lead to more success for the practice.

“Teamwork in a workplace is improved when everyone in the team knows exactly the steps required to get their tasks done and how much impact their roles have on the practice,” says Owen McGab Enaohwo, co-founder of Sweet Process in Germantown, MD.

In fact, Enaohwo recommends that leadership document procedures for how each employee should get their tasks done and also empower the employees to improve on the procedures as they do their work.

“Thereby encouraging employees to take ownership of each task assigned to them and improving the business systems over time,” says Enaohwo.

Switch to a team-reward environment

One common reason teamwork fails in the workplace is that organizations reward individual contributions. Performance evaluations, raises and bonuses are based on individual performances.

“Although one of the performance attributes may be categorized as leadership or ability to work in teams—it is still individually based,” says Laura Lee Rose, a time management and efficiency coach. “Employees are still mainly evaluated by their individual contributions.”

Therefore, by switching to a team-based performance evaluation and bonus structure, Rose says you can more easily make the shift. By outlining and rewarding team-based missions, goals and metrics, your employees can better focus on their team business commitments. By offering specific team-based bonuses and rewards, versus individual acknowledgments, you can affect a change in culture.

“By eliminating individual call-outs and reprimands, it will also help change the culture,” says Rose. “It will remove the need for the blame-game and office defense dance.”

Create a culture conducive to teamwork

Creating a culture conducive to teamwork is important, says Ryan, because “as the saying goes, people don’t leave jobs, rather leave bad managers.”

Lack of clarity from management can lead to failed team efforts. Yes, leaders are busy, he says, but they can end up wasting everyone’s time and energy without taking enough time to explain themselves or company needs.

For example, even the sharpest employees might start to flounder when a leader assigns a project to more than one person but doesn’t help to define precisely the roles and expectations,” he says. “In some cases, the roles develop organically. In others, not so much and the project can get derailed.” 

Another recipe for failure is when leaders present a loosely defined problem to a team that needs a solution. The team will try their best to come up with solutions but often head down the wrong path if not 100% clear on what they’re attempting to solve.

“A leader can then add more frustration to the collaborative process when he or she expresses disappointment in the outcomes,” says Ryan.