In June 2014, the Medical Group Management Association released the results of a questionnaire that ranked members' most pressing practice management challenges. In this edition of “Practice Makes Perfect,” we'll tackle No. 19 on that list: Managing teamwork and group dynamics within the practice.
As a proud resident of Louisiana, I liken the variety of employees found in a medical practice to gumbo. A medical practice workforce can contain “a little bit of everything”—staff of all ages with varying visions and values who are navigating different stages of their careers. Add in hourly employees, specially trained technical and clinical staff, nonphysician providers, physicians and administrative staff and it's easy to see how managing a medical practice's group dynamics is not simple.
Why? Just like making a good gumbo, the right ingredients must be present to build the best team. Cultivating a dynamic, successful team is essential for medical practices to maintain a healthy margin and enhance quality of care. Practices cannot afford to have a bad culture. World-class medical practices embrace dynamic cultures that enable innovation. With rising costs, shrinking margins and an unprecedented velocity of change occurring in healthcare, there is no choice but to design a culture that fosters a practice's success. To inspire teamwork and elevate group dynamics, focus on four areas:
Define your vision
Have a clearly articulated, motivational and widely communicated practice vision in which each and every team member believes can bring a group together. In many practices that I've worked with, there has been a disconnect between the business and the clinical aspects of the organization. Successful medical practices recognize that these lines are now forever blurred, and while physicians and administrators may focus on different day-to-day tasks and responsibilities, a unified practice vision is necessary to take better care of patients (even beyond their time in the exam room), inspire teams and encourage better collaboration.
Communicate often. Communicate in every direction. And remember, communication is two sided—it involves broadcasting a message as well as receiving the message. In effective communication, the broadcaster of the message accepts responsibility for the reception as well. The absence of effective communication undermines every positive effort within the practice.
Transparency and integrity foster teamwork. Conversely, their absence undermines the practice culture. The medical practice is a team composed of several smaller teams. Ideally, all of the teams pull together to provide the best in patient care, including access, appropriate care, quality and value. Silos have no place in a practice, and the absence of transparency and integrity breeds mistrust, which in turn breeds silos.
Delegate responsibility and authority among teammates. Train, educate and engage employees in every part of the practice to enable teams to make decisions on their own. Establish parameters if necessary, but empowering employees, the most valuable resource in the practice, is key to managing the group dynamics and teamwork. In every instance where the practice fully engages the staff, the need for day-to-day micromanaging is virtually eliminated. The staff works together, holds each other accountable, and focuses on the vision and the practice—not the minor issues.
Unfortunately, there is no secret sauce to building and managing teams, but there are key ingredients that must be present. Medical practices with strong leadership and a focused vision who engage in two-way, transparent communication build the foundation necessary to maintain a high-performing organization.
Kenneth Hertz is a principal with the MGMA Health Care Consulting Group.