The opening plenary session for the 2018 CFHA Annual Conference in Rochester, New York was led by internationally-renown expert on teamwork, Eduardo Salas from Rice University. His presentation was a fire hydrant of incredible information on the science of teamwork and included insightful advice on how to help a team of experts become an expert team.
Research on teamwork has grown exponentially since the late 1970s when researchers began studying teams in context, their natural environments. Scientific findings began emerging the next decade and since then has yielded important findings on what drives team effectiveness, a common language for directing teams, a plan for promoting teamwork in practice, and evidence that demonstrates teams are effective. For a concise review of current evidence, check out the special issue in American Psychologist journal that was co-edited by Dr. Salas and Dr. Susan McDaniel.
There is a compelling case, supported by multiple meta-analyses, for healthcare organizations to implement evidence-based strategies for designing and sustaining teams. One major meta-analysis of 130 studies demonstrated that better teamwork processes increases likelihood for success by 25%.
Dr. Salas shared several observations he has made over the many years in this field. First, it appears that collaboration expectations are rising and organizations are using teams more than ever; however, many teams perform sub-optimally draining energy and time from an organization. Second, achieving collaboration and teamwork is not a linear event; it is a complex phenomenon including multiple inputs, processes, and outputs. Dr. Salas has observed that the best teams include leadership exemplars and constructive conversations that allow teams to self-adjust and improve.
The current question driving research today in teamwork science is this: how do we turn a team of experts into an expert team? It appears that teams are not created equal and differentiate by the degree of coordination and task interdependence. In other words, “to what extent are team members reliant on one another and need to work together?” As you think about your own teams, you can begin to identify the ways in which team members complement one another and share a mutual goal for success.
If you are considering ways to improve your own teams, consider some of the following ideas:
- Team excel when there are clear roles, responsibilities, and reasons for existing
- A strong coach/leader can facilitate teamwork and exemplify the ability to self-correct
- Teams follow a cycle of pre-brief > performance > debrief
- Avoid “weaponizing” performance data to drive team success
- A pre-launch event is a great way to energize your team kick things off the right way
- Use the Seven C’s to train your teams and clarify their roles
- Teach your teams how to huddle and debrief, a skill that does not come naturally
Dr. Salas believes that most problems in the US healthcare system are the result of poor or non-existing teamwork (e.g., medical errors; lack of care coordination and communication). If there is any industry that needs better teamwork, it is healthcare. Luckily, CFHA is in the business of helping teams thrive.