Improving team interactions

Do you sometimes have challenges with the way your team interact?

Do you spend more time than you’d like sorting out internal conflicts?



You are not alone.

Over the years coaching in healthcare, I have seen countless managers struggle with, or be frustrated by interpersonal issues in their teams.

The challenges that healthcare managers often face with this include:

• Conflict amongst team members
• Lack of collaboration and a siloed approach to work
• Reluctance to participate at team meetings
• Lack of team initiative

Do you have any of these issues with your healthcare teams? Which is most common for you? What impact do you think these issues are having on team morale, performance and patient/client care?

Unfortunately, when humans interact, there is always the potential for these challenges – different personalities, agendas, preferences, knowledge and skills, stress levels all contribute. To resolve these issues takes a future-focus and some work on your part.

Are you up for the challenge?

The five steps we will discuss here will help build the team you want. You’ll need commitment and patience, and a flexible approach. Try something. See if it works. If it doesn’t, try something else. When you have a team that performs and interacts well, you’ll be pleased you tried.

The 5 steps for better team interaction that we will cover are:
Step 1: Be honest
Step 2: Shake or stir – just commit to action
Step 3: Change the culture
Step 4: Value the team
Step 5: Coach, coach, coach

Step 1: Be honest

Before you can address any team issues, you will need to be honest. Both with yourself and with the team.

Sometimes when there are team issues, the manager and leader might underestimate or overestimate the challenges.

When underestimating, it can be a little like sticking your head in the sand and hoping that it will go away. It won’t.

Thinking that an issue will resolve itself or that a conflict matter will miraculously disappear is not helpful to you or the team.

On the flip side, over estimating the size of the issues is equally unhelpful. Catastrophizing – “everything is terrible, all work is poor and no one gets on” can make the situation appear overwhelming. And generally when we get overwhelmed, we don’t take action, it’s too hard.

So think about what the team does well specifically. Then think about what it needs to improve, or where the gaps are – specifically.

Now that we have looked at the team, step back and consider what you have contributed to creating the positives and negatives. Be honest.

Only this type of assessment will help us determine what actions and priorities are required.

Now, in some cases, the team could even help you out with this honest assessment. If that’s appropriate, wonderful. The more you get the team involved in this, the faster they will take ownership.

Sometimes though, it will just be you assessing, then providing your team with the feedback. That could start with a few of the team if there are specific issues there, or it might be the whole team. Your judgment is necessary, so think through what you believe is best.

No matter your approach, letting the team know your thoughts is important. Be honest. Share the good, the bad and the ugly. Frame it as a line in the sand, a time to build on the strengths and be an even more effective team.

Link it to your team purpose. Align it with patient experience and outcomes, business longevity, job satisfaction. Make the case for a better future.

Step 2: Shake or stir – just commit to action

Now if we stopped at the assessment stage, there’s no point, right? We need to commit to take action, determine the actions and prioritise accordingly.

So we could shake it up, turn things upside down, take drastic action, make big changes.

Or, we could stir gently, make small changes, take more measured steps, go slowly, nudge into new ways.

Do you know which way is best? It doesn’t really matter. Every situation is different. Sometimes shaking things gets amazing traction, and sometimes that scares people into inaction. Sometimes a gentle stir will create a significant shift and sometimes it will not be enough to notice.

Use your judgement. And take action. Inaction is not an option if you want improvements.

Step 3: Change the culture

This one is a big one. Whether your actions are the shake or stir variety, ultimately they will directly or indirectly impact the team culture. Think of culture as ‘the way we do things, the impact we have and the environment we create’.

Even though your actions from the assessment phase will impact the culture, there are some specific things that I believe you should focus on for team effectiveness. And to reduce the headaches you have from issues in the future!

Focus on psychological safety. Help the team understand the brain’s role in team interactions and the impact they can have on others through words and actions. Aim to be minimisers of the threat state – for each other, for patients and clients.

Help the team build trust and empathy (this links to psychological safety). In my years working with teams, when I see team performance issues, in the majority of cases there will be an element relating to lack of trust. Help the team get to know each other – their experience and strengths, their work preferences. Diversity in abilities and personalities is good – help them see that and trust each other. Encourage the reflection on another person – seeing their perspective, understanding their challenges.

Set expectations. Ensure yours is a team that knows what is expected – the results, the processes and policies and the way things are done. Make sure they know what the boundaries are, especially with the way they treat each other and work together. Make your expectations clear – for work tasks and human to human interactions.

Encourage courage. Support team members in addressing their own concerns and conflicts appropriately with others. Lead by example – give feedback (good and not so good), have tough discussions. Don’t handle all of their conflicts yourself – it will never end. Show them how to deal with it – you’ll be amazed how they learn to sort it out, not sweat the small stuff, and address what’s important.

Walk the talk. People watch you and they mirror your behaviour. Your behaviour tells them what is acceptable. So for yourself – don’t fuel conflict, call it when you see it (bad behaviour). No more blame or frustration expressed about others, ask for and give input, collaborate with colleagues. SHOW the team how it’s done, be a leader for good.

Step 4: Value the team

So the team know they are heading in the right direction, give them positive feedback when you see efforts or results. Spend time

with them, ask questions, listen more. Show appreciation and give your time. Thank them for a job well done.

Hold regular meetings with them – one on one and in a team (just make them meaningful and purposeful). Don’t cancel meetings, keep to time, encourage participation. Ask them for input, get them talking.

When people feel valued, they walk a little taller and try a little harder. They focus on their work and worry less about silly and childish conflicts. They see the good in others because you see the good in them.


Step 5: Coach, coach, coach

One of the greatest skills a manager and leader can develop is that of coaching. When you coach you ask more than tell, you listen with interest and you help others take ownership and responsibility for their work.

Over time, rather than solving their problems, you get them taking initiative, finding the answers, and being accountable. The expectations you set help them know to check in, yet they come with answers, not just issues. If you are not sure where to start, try this – next time they come with something that’s bugging them ask: “How do you think we could resolve this?”

Changing the way a team interacts takes time and commitment. It’s worth it.

As a manager and leader, will you commit to take action?

If you could do with some support or further information on some of these steps, we have courses and discussion forums waiting for you in our online Members Community. Click here to learn more.

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