Teamwork on the Frontlines

July 30, 2020

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Stephanie Goraczkowski

teamwork-handsAs we continue to fight the coronavirus pandemic daily, healthcare workers on the frontlines are leading the charge, picking up the pieces and showing unity and leadership in their field. This dedication to hard work is a beam of light in dark, uncharted territory.

 

Teamwork on the Frontlines 

 

A team-based approach

Healthcare professionals are implementing team-based staffing. Instead of a smaller number of patients being cared for by one RN, healthcare leaders are allocating bigger patient groups to many healthcare professionals. The idea is that the combined knowledge of the team can provide better care to patients—more than one healthcare professional could do by themselves.

Previous research conducted on teamwork while under stress is being used to give foresight into certain risks that impact teamwork negatively and offer solutions to help teams work effectively together, stay the course, and ensure patient safety during the pandemic.

 

Engaging leadership skills

At a time when both healthcare professionals and patients are looking for leadership and solutions, those leading the charge in healthcare are expected to bolster collaboration and teamwork among their peers.

Throughout COVID-19, team-based plans have also been beneficial for creating more leaders within those team environments. Healthcare professionals with more experience are pioneering team-based staffing and are responsible for a small amount of complex care, but mainly can spend most of the time overseeing their team, making sure things run smoothly and effectively.

In precarious times like the coronavirus pandemic, leaders from different healthcare organizations are actively partnering with each other as well, offering the right solutions and messaging to patients. The right leadership is crucial during uncertain times and successful leaders will bring people together in teamwork to help others.

 

Communicating roles and responsibilities during COVID-19

In a team environment, helping each other out is an ordinary part of the job. Even so, each person should know their direct responsibilities too. Each facility has different responsibilities mapped out for their healthcare workers, but the big takeaway from this is communication. Leaders are establishing clear roles among healthcare professionals to ensure that patient care isn’t missed or duplicated, while covering all angles. Every healthcare professional still thrives on communication and their specific roles that have been designated to them.

 

Communicating current events and changes during COVID-19

Continued communication is leading to better patient outcomes and a better work environment for healthcare professionals. This communication flow extends not only within roles, staffing changes, shift coverages and safety in the workplace, but also how the pandemic is reacting or shifting. Every day were finding out more about coronavirus, and healthcare professionals are staying on top of these new discoveries, guidelines, state and federal policy issues, safety precautions, and news updates to provide the best possible care for their patients and to keep themselves and their families safe.

 

Looking toward the future

Current data shoes that we are still in the height of COVID-19. Learning to adapt and prepare for future challenges in the healthcare arena is detrimental to providing patients with the safe, high-quality care they need and deserve. An article on managing teamwork during pandemic stressors offers solutions to help keep healthcare teams on track during a crisis:

 

“Recognize wins and successes—large and small.”

There is research that shows teams can achieve more when they have collective efficacy—meaning the belief that in their teams capabilities. During the pandemic, healthcare teams are inundated with several challenges—patient volume, resources running short and difficult patient cases. Without celebrating wins, a team can easily lose collective efficacy in the face of those challenges.

 

“Ensure the team sustains shared mental models (SMM).”

The term SMM (or team cognitions) refer to a team’s shared understanding of their roles. Not everyone on the team needs to know all the same things, but team members share a ‘common enough’ understanding of key elements. Furthermore, team members can help with a shared perspective by asking questions when they are unsure about priorities, processes or functions. Usually when one team member isn’t sure, others are also unsure, so everyone can benefit from hearing the answer.

 

“Don’t forget the people behind the scenes.”

We often refer to the term “heroes” when we’re talking about healthcare professionals on the frontlines. They are the ones who are providing hands-on patient care during COVID-19 and hold the biggest personal risk as they are both service provider and emotional support to patients. Although a lot of focus should be placed on supporting frontline healthcare workers, there are others who work behind the scenes, delivering supplies, updating family members, making sure systems are running, caring for non-COVID patients, and other endless tasks that make healthcare settings run more efficiently.

 

“Emphasize and promote team mutual monitoring.”

According to research, the most effective teams look to monitor three things: the situation, team performance and teammates, to gauge team health. One main proven outcome from high stress levels is a narrowing of attention and an tendency to focus on oneself. In these circumstances, monitoring can decrease. Teams can focus on mutual monitoring and leaders can inspire teams to do so by working it into a shift prebrief or daily schedule and remind others to let the team know if they see another healthcare worker becoming overwhelmed. Then team members can back each other up.

 

“Take actions that build and sustain psychological safety.”

Psychological safety refers to how team members perceives their interpersonal risks, like speaking up, admitting mistakes, acknowledging confusion and offering a different opinion without risk of being punished for their actions or rejected in their ideas. Research has shown psychological safety to be one of the strongest predictors of how effective a team is. Preserving psychological safety for healthcare teams currently will affect the future too. In the wake of the pandemic, healthcare teams will need to be as transparent as possible to help establish a new normal.

 

“Help team members address concerns with their ‘home team’.”

Healthcare professionals are people like everyone else. They have a lot of worry in their own family and friends, on top of their patient care responsibilities and job challenges. Healthcare crisis management teams can try to ease concerns by dedicating attention to what a healthcare professional’s family needs. Team leaders can encourage support and look for ways, even small ones, of offer their own support.

 

“Consciously boost team resiliency.”

Team resilience refers to how a collective team can overcome challenges. This is team strength, not individual strength. A person can withstand pressures, but that doesn’t mean they will monitor or support their teammates who are under stress. Team resiliency requires intentional actions to minimize stress. By anticipating and preparing for challenges, teams are not taken off guard by a stressor and are able to boost their ability to handle future challenges.

 

This pandemic has occurred while the healthcare environment is opening up to new ideas and new ways to problem solve patient care solutions. By opening lines of communication and creating new ways to work together, frontline healthcare workers are able to boost their ability to provide valuable care to patients and a quality bedside manner in the process. Teamwork in healthcare helps combine the silos healthcare professionals are working in and mend the resulting exhaustion they face during a time when we need top patient care.

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