In June, the Medical Group Management Association released the results of its third annual survey of members on the professional issues that challenge them the most. In this edition of Practice Makes Perfect, we address No. 8 on the list: managing teamwork and group dynamics among physicians.
Bolstering team dynamics for docs
“Good morning, Mr. Phelps; your mission, should you choose to accept it …” Remember that opening from the 1960s television hit “Mission: Impossible”? I'm not saying that managing teamwork among physicians is an impossible mission—not exactly anyway—but it does require careful planning and cooperation.
“What are ways I can manage the teamwork and group dynamics among physicians?” is a question I frequently receive during engagements. I often hear, “How do I get my physicians to work together as a team?” or “Some of my docs won't even speak with each other.” I've even heard, “These two partners haven't spoken for 12 years.”
Mr. Phelps required a team to complete his mission successfully; each member had a different skill set. Working with your physicians to achieve teamwork and strong, positive group dynamics will require lots of cooperation and a well-thought-out plan. After all, physicians are highly intelligent, highly educated and often autonomous free agents who are content working with little supervision and are less accustomed to group decision-making. Is this a truly impossible mission? It doesn't have to be.
- Make a plan: The plan to manage teamwork must align with your organization's plan, including the practice's mission, vision and value statements. Aligning the physicians' goals and desires with those of their partners and the practice is critical. Unless everybody is heading in the same direction, there is little chance of real teamwork taking place. This step is foundational to almost everything else in the practice.
- Use existing team members: Focus on two key members of the team to begin changing the group dynamics in your practice.
- Consider the practice administrator's role: The administrator possesses the skill set and knowledge base required to facilitate such an important process. Reflect on how well you interact with others and determine whether you are able to effectively resolve conflict. It is important to develop an open and honest relationship with the physicians in the practice and be able to discuss concerns as well as successes with your teammates. You are a critical piece of the equation, and earning your teammates' trust is a crucial step in helping to manage the team dynamics. If you are unsure of the necessary skill set, spend some time with the American College of Medical Practice Executives' Body of Knowledge for Medical Practice Management. It's a great tool for assessing your strengths and weaknesses as a practice administrator and helps to identify core skills necessary for success.
- Look to the physician leader to facilitate conversation: To be successful on this mission of teamwork and managing group dynamics, knowledgeable, skilled and committed physician leadership is vital. Once the relationship between the practice administrator and physician leader is cultivated, they can work in harmony to positively affect the team dynamics of the rest of the practice.
I recently worked with a practice administrator who regularly provided articles and book recommendations to his physician leadership regarding teamwork, leadership and conflict resolution. One of the core responsibilities of a practice administrator should be to help inform and educate the physician owners and take leadership of the practice regarding the practice's business.
A strategic plan and alignment between the physician leader and practice administrator are simple ways to begin this process. Once these pieces are in place, focus on the goal and apply the tools and techniques of conflict resolution, engagement and leadership. The mission that once seemed almost impossible suddenly becomes manageable and achievable.
Kenneth HertzPrincipalMGMA Health Care Consulting GroupEnglewood, Colo.
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