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Successful team building in healthcare

Australian College of Nursing CEO Adjunct Professo
Photo: Australian College of Nursing CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward
Effective healthcare teams have been linked to an increase in job satisfaction, more productive staff, fewer clinical errors, greater staff retention, and improved patient care and outcomes.

The move to create successful team-based care is not new. But despite growing recognition and acceptance of the importance of building successful teams in recent years, team building initiatives often fail to transition into practise in traditionally silo-based healthcare organisations.

Australian College of Nursing (ACN) CEO Adjunct Professor Kylie Ward says while there are numerous challenges in developing teams in the 24/7 fast-paced, complex and demanding healthcare environment, successful teams are vital for leading change and innovation, bolstering the workforce and improving patient care.
“When you build a great team and you’ve got people who are happy, feeling healthy from a wellness perspective and wanting to come to work and feel like they’re fulfilling their purpose and they’re part of something, then that directly contributes to optimal patient care,” she says.

“I think at the end of the day what we’re here for is to serve the community and the patients and residents and clients, and when the workforce feels valued and part of something important in the sense of a team then that has a positive effect on the community and patients.”

High-performing healthcare teams often showcase qualities such as shared goals, clear roles and responsibilities, open and clear communication, an ability to quickly adapt, access to mentoring and continuous learning, as well as balanced participation.

Other key elements are a positive working atmosphere with mutual trust, cooperative relationships, and an environment where staff are appreciated for their contribution.

Adjunct Professor Ward, who has 25 years’ experience in nursing, health management, academia and nurse leadership, says the key to developing a successful nursing team is to build it on a foundation of effective leadership.

She says leadership has become an intrinsic requirement for today’s healthcare managers.

“Once upon a time you could have been a manager and been process-driven and not so much people-focused,” she says.

“Now if you want to be in a formal position of influence with leadership, you need to know that a passion for people is an imperative and it’s not an option.”

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Adjunct Professor Ward says team leaders should first focus on themselves.

“You need to challenge yourself and keep evolving,” she says.

“It’s not that people work to our style, we need to understand how to bring the best out in the whole team and that might require five or 10 different ways of doing things to get everybody engaged in the one goal.

“The one-size-fits-all model is outdated and you will disengage some of your workforce, if not all, by being traditional and not evolving and developing yourself as a leader.”

Adjunct Professor Ward says effective nurse leaders should be able to listen, have compassion and empathy, and demonstrate a drive to invest in and work with their staff to create great teams.

“As a leader, whether I’ve been a Director of Nursing or in another position, I can’t possibly have all of the skills and the knowledge,” she says.

“So, it’s knowing the people in your team, having that desire to want to get to know them, not just on a clinical or a professional level, but what personally motivates and drives them, and then getting the power of the team.

“It’s making sure that everybody feels valued, we work to their strengths and we develop the areas that need to be strengthened.

“Staff also need to know that the environment is safe, that it’s okay not to be perfect. It’s not acceptable to make mistakes in the clinical area but in concept and ideas - well, that’s okay, we’ll learn.”

Adjunct Professor Ward says it’s paramount health organisations and providers first invest in advancing nurse leadership through professional development and education while introducing more opportunities for mentoring and coaching as well as reflective practice.

And she advises nurse leaders preparing to embark on developing successful teams to equip themselves with qualities such as tenacity and perseverance.

“Don’t be surprised - know when you walk in to build a team and to take the team somewhere that there will be resistance,” she says.

“You don’t back down, you actually work with people in steps alongside them and take them through that to another place.

“One of the things that I always say and that I said to my team here is - ‘we will be uncomfortable, we will not be unsafe but if we don’t challenge, we don’t change’.

“So being uncomfortable is okay, we would never be unsafe because we work in a valued environment.”

Extremely good leadership is obvious in how innovative healthcare teams perform, Adjunct Professor Ward adds.

“People love what they’re doing, they go above and beyond, you have a vibrant workforce who want to share ideas - that’s the best kind of leadership.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords