“During COVID-19, we have seen the incredible ability of health care teams to come together in ways like never before. My hope is that the advances that teams have made for their patients continue once beyond the pandemic.” Katie Davis, RN, MS-HSM, Vizient clinical workforce solutions intelligence director

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the health care workforce has shown resilience and agility in the face of unprecedented challenges. Yet, sustaining and improving the advances made in the past year means nurturing a culture of teamwork.The benefits of team-based care are happier and more engaged employees, higher patient engagement, and improved care quality and safety. Further, amid widespread workforce shortages, team-based care enables organizations to stretch scarce clinician resources to effectively care for more patients.

“Team-based care allows us to do a lot of things that we simply can’t do as a collection of individuals,” says Robert Dean, DO, MBA, Vizient senior vice president, performance management, in during a recent three-part Vizient Modern Practice Podcast on this topic.

Achieving high team performance isn’t easy. A number of challenges exist related to interprofessional collaboration, communication and departmental silos (see sidebar). But as health care teams across the country continue to navigate COVID-19, there are countless examples of teams working together toward a common cause, implementing new policies and practices in hours or days, rather than weeks, months or even years.

For example, the supply chain distribution and logistics team at a Midwest community hospital planned and implemented a COVID-19 warehousing and logistics plan in one day. This included creating major supply hubs across four hospitals, and a transportation network to deliver emergency supplies to all sites and community partners where and when they were needed.

Dr. Dean emphasizes that every decision must revolve around the patient. “Individuals on a team can come from multiple backgrounds and have various skill sets, but what is needed is a common purpose, and that common purpose is the patient.”

Five Keys to advancing team culture in your organization

Years ago, the National Academy of Medicine identified five principles of team-based health care that are still relevant today: shared goals, clear roles, mutual trust, effective communication and measurable processes and outcomes. In addition to these building blocks, the following elements are essential to a strong team culture during the pandemic and beyond:

Agility: Over the past few months, COVID-19 has forced health care organizations to become more agile and to act quickly and decisively when needed to ensure patients get the care they need, when they need it.

Trust among teams and patients: “Establishing and maintaining trust isn’t new,” says Katie Davis, RN, MS-HSM, Vizient clinical workforce solutions intelligence director, during the podcast series, “but we’re thinking about trust in new ways because we’ve seen just how important it is during the pandemic.” Build trust and empathy with patients and families, and focus on trust among teams and between team members, which can be complex during a crisis situation.

Two-way communication: Employ frequent and transparent communication, such as virtual townhalls, email communications and leadership rounding. Communication from bottom to top is also essential, allowing clinicians and staff to share information, ideas and feedback. Davis says that many of the innovative ideas that emerged at member hospitals during the pandemic came from people on the front lines.

Recognition and appreciation: Recognize and celebrate team members who boost team morale, go above and beyond to support peers and patients, and bring their best selves to work each day. “We’ve heard over and over from members that celebration, recognition and appreciation are keys to building a strong team culture,” notes Davis.

It begins with leadership

COVID-19 has demonstrated the incredible ability of health care teams to come together in unprecedented ways, setting a new bar in what they’re capable of doing. Dr. Dean says that building a foundation for a team-based culture begins with leadership. Strong leaders exemplify the values of the organization, develop expectations for teams and create a psychologically safe environment for staff and providers. And although it can takes time to build familiarity, trust and communication across a health care team, organizations that foster a team-based culture will be poised to adapt and thrive through current and future challenges.

Davis hopes that the advances that teams have made every day for patients over the past year persist once the pandemic under control. “Teams have demonstrated what they’re capable of and my hope is that they continue to challenge the status quo, bring their best selves to work and create an environment where each team member can truly practice at their highest ability,” she says.

Additional information about advancing team culture is available in Vizient’s playbook, Advancing team culture: Workforce effectiveness during COVID-19 and beyond.

Published: March 16, 2021