In healthcare, teamwork translates to enhanced care and innovative solutions to problems, enabling teams to strive towards shared, common goals. It ensures caregivers provide excellent patient care while also minimizing medical errors. Of course, there are often barriers to team building that can negatively impact healthcare teams and workflow. Studies show that multidisciplinary teams in healthcare environments often rely on effective teamwork and communication to ensure patient care and safety.
In the event of poor communication between caregivers, unnecessary medical errors can occur, leading to adverse patient outcomes. This can be heightened when caregivers work in high-stress and fast-paced environments, which can potentially be a barrier to developing effective healthcare teams. Here we will discuss the most prevalent barriers to team building and how healthcare providers can work together to find solutions to overcome these barriers.
Barriers To Building a High Performance Team
Developing a high performance team is not just about leadership. It also involves removing obstacles that prevent nurses and other long term care staff from working in a pleasant and collaborative workplace environment. Navigating differences between teammates can be tricky and requires great tact, especially given the range of personalities of staff, differences in levels of education, and the organizational structure of the facility.
Below are some common barriers to team building that long term care leaders must address before their facility can be a high performance team:
- Differences in socio-economic backgrounds: Nursing homes and other long term care facilities employ individuals with a wide range of education and standing in society. This may result in minimal social interaction. Also, each professional group has usually been trained in their specific skill sets and likely has not received any training in teamwork and collaboration. This can lead to a lack of understanding of each other’s roles, responsibilities, and priorities, negatively impacting team building and successful cooperation.
- Cultural differences: Like other professions in America, long term care includes individuals from many different cultural backgrounds. And a lack of understanding surrounding unfamiliar cultures may create problems for team building. For instance, one may not know how to assert oneself in the presence of a coworker from a different culture who is not pulling their weight.
- Poor communication: Working alongside team members with different professional backgrounds, formal training, and perspectives can lead to poor communication, especially if clear goals and expectations are not established by leadership. If team members lack clarity about their responsibilities or work expectations and do not communicate this with others, it will impact the team’s overall performance.
- Age differences: As younger people enter the nursing profession, a significant age gap develops between newly qualified professionals and older and more experienced staff members. For instance, a CNA much older than a floor nurse may not have as much formal education but will have learned much over decades of on-the-floor experience. As a result, the former may not be as receptive to criticism, especially if the newly qualified nurse is decades younger.
- Lack of trust: Leadership needs to establish trust between the team and set transparent and shared goals to work effectively. When there is a lack of trust between team members, there is often poor communication because members are reluctant to offer feedback or share their perspectives on collaborative tasks. This lack of confidence can also impact team collaboration and cause unnecessary team conflict, resulting in medical errors and adverse patient outcomes.
- Aimlessness: Building a high performance team often starts with the team having common, shared goals that members can work toward. If the team does not fully comprehend the team objectives, this can lead to confusion and negatively impact resident care.
- Personal issues: Divorce, housing insecurity, sickness, insufficient self-care or support systems, and neglected health (on account of excessive responsibilities at work) are just some of the personal issues that staff members may be dealing with, which—when ignored or unknown—can make employees irritable and impatient. Thus, it is of utmost importance to manage these problems in order to build a high performance team.
- Non-compromising staff: Some will manipulate, bully, or shout at others to get their desired results. They often use intimidation to get their way and create a toxic team culture in the process. Such a staff member can destroy team-building quickly.
Caregivers must work collaboratively with other team members in healthcare to ensure patient safety and care. This means that healthcare professionals should establish strong communication within the team to connect with colleagues, explain their perspectives, listen to others, and relay expectations. Failure to do so will impact the quality of patient care, resulting in adverse patient outcomes.
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How To Overcome Barriers to Team Collaboration
To enable effective team collaboration, leaders must first identify the barriers to team building. Fortunately, leaders with excellent leadership traits will find that dealing with barriers to effective teamwork is possible, provided they have a good understanding of the team and a solid foundation of team-building strategies. Below, we will highlight effective strategies leaders can adopt to overcome team-building barriers and put together a high performance team.
Overcoming Differences in Socio-Economic Backgrounds
When building a high performance team, leadership can overcome socio-economic differences by encouraging better communication between members of the group. Let us take the example of a nurse with a master’s degree who comes off as condescending when explaining a concept to other nurses. This individual may not be mindful of their tone and body language. And this issue is amplified when the more educated nurse is younger than those they supervise.
In such a case, leaders need to set clear expectations for the interdisciplinary team so that the different professional groups can understand the various interpretations and expectations of each other’s responsibilities. Additionally, leadership should encourage team members to explain their logic further in a way easily comprehended by other professional groups, improving communication across the team.
Additionally, every leader must be willing to receive feedback and subsequently modify their approach. When necessary, a long term care leader needs to intervene by meeting the different professional groups and explaining the effects of their phrasing and behavior and how others might perceive them. This can help reduce miscommunication between team members and prevent unnecessary conflict, resulting in more coordinated patient care.
Overcoming Trust Issues
Building trust in healthcare is imperative to staff performance, communication between the team, and the quality of care provided for patients. Studies show that trust directly impacts team collaboration, conflict resolution, staff commitment and motivation, staff retention, and job satisfaction.
A lack of trust between team members and leadership will decrease collaboration while creating the perception of flawed leadership, which residents in long term care facilities pick up on. This can lead to residents switching to another facility with a better environment.
Therefore, facilities need to build a high level of trust between all staff members and leadership, putting on a united front for the residents. Once a high level of trust is established, there will naturally be better relationships between team members, leading to conflict resolutions, collaboration, and cooperation.
Overcoming Cultural Differences
Interpersonal communication is key to understanding new perspectives. Leaders and other team members must dedicate themselves to showing genuine interest in a person and the nuances of their culture to prevent miscommunication and frustration. Team members must also be willing to listen patiently so that each individual feels they have the opportunity to voice their concerns, knowing that they are supported and heard.
Overcoming Age Differences
Overcoming age differences involves understanding one’s role and acting respectfully. For example, a younger nurse is in a senior position compared to an older CNA. In such cases, despite the age difference, healthcare facilities have a clear hierarchy, which means that the older employee must respect the younger nurse’s senior position and follow instructions accordingly.
Should the older employee demonstrate disrespect, it falls on leadership (a nursing home administrator) to step in to resolve the dispute. At the same time, when the younger senior nurse communicates with an older employee, they must communicate respectfully, using an appropriate and professional tone of voice and body language.
Studies show that if leadership can successfully implement a diversity management training program that focuses on age stereotypes, this will decrease negative assumptions in mixed-aged teams while improving cooperation between team members.
Overcoming Personal Issues
Each person’s situation is unique, and employers may not always be aware of their challenges. For instance, some staff members may have inadequate means of transportation. Others may be dealing with limited or inconsistent child care support. Yet others may have social or legal obligations, such as hearings, proceedings, or appointments that can significantly affect their punctuality and performance.
Effective leadership means understanding employees’ circumstances by getting the complete picture of each individual. Only then can a leader recognize which events are beyond the employee’s control and act accordingly.
Before passing judgment on any employee’s irregular behavior, like coming to work late or being distracted during shifts, leadership must look at the individual’s complete work history, including their past performance, dedication, and reliability under normal circumstances. This will allow them to identify any irregular behavior when an employee shows less commitment to work.
Additionally, when an employee has a personal issue, leadership should demonstrate compassion by checking on employees, recognizing the difficult situation, and showing understanding of their challenging positions. Once a private matter has been identified, it is important to treat the employee as you would want to be treated.
In recent times, during the pandemic and staffing crisis, leadership needs to show sensitivity to unforeseen circumstances that are beyond one’s control. A good place for leaders to start is by showing sincere concern. This means being flexible with team members who are dealing with serious problems. For instance, if a staff member is going through a divorce, working with them to create a flexible schedule that accommodates their court dates can be helpful and appreciated.
Leadership will sometimes need to lessen the workload of these team members to accommodate their difficult circumstances. However, it is equally important that leadership does not display favoritism among team members, as this can lead to conflict and dissatisfaction with other employees.
Suppose an employee cannot work extra hours because of personal issues. In that case, a leader can find a solution, such as offering a financial overtime incentive to other staff members to ensure that all tasks are completed and compensated sufficiently.
Despite offering support for employees, a long term care facility must never forget that, first and foremost, their priority is to provide high-quality care through proper coordination of care, so simply reducing the team’s workload when issues arise is not a viable option. Instead, a leader must find innovative solutions to resolve personal problems as soon as possible.
Of course, leadership must also be wary of staff who use the pretense of personal issues to get extra days off or demand additional benefits. Patterns of tardiness, unending excuses, and work inefficiency indicate an employee simply does not enjoy their work and not that there is a temporary obstacle to overcome. In such cases, an administrator should not be afraid to let the person go, as not doing so will damage the team dynamic and impact the high quality of care at the facility.
Overcoming Non-Compromising Staff
Non-compromising staff members are not team players but selfish individuals looking for personal gain and comfort. In many cases, they are bullies who dominate situations with other employees, abuse them by shouting at them, or manipulate them to perform tasks that are not within their responsibilities or roles. In such cases, it is imperative that leadership isolates and disciplines the non-compromising individuals to prevent further deterioration of the team.
Effective leadership alleviates such situations by allowing these employees to express their opinions, explain their actions, and receive clear messaging that this behavior will not be tolerated. Furthermore, leaders need to offer additional training sessions to demonstrate how the employee can be better team players, share why they need to improve their communication with colleagues, and calmly speak to them to convince them.
If the employee does not show any sign of change and resists leadership’s suggestions, it may be time to remove them from the facility. Leadership needs to prioritize focus on building a team with a united front rather than leniency towards an individual’s professional skills. Ultimately, building a strong team culture is more valuable than the contributions of a single employee.
The Importance of Overcoming Barriers to Team Building
While it is not always easy to overcome barriers to team building, it is necessary if a long term care facility wants to improve communication, increase workflow efficiency, and improve patient outcomes. It may seem obvious, but building an effective team takes time, practice, and patience, especially the process of developing bonds of trust and interdependence that will hold the team together.
Studies show that if a workplace environment lacks teamwork, employees have less work satisfaction, which can impact the quality of care. So while there are challenges to building a high-performance team, leadership must still focus on developing stronger connections throughout the organization. In addition, they must address trust barriers, cultural differences, and bullying that can impact the team culture. Only then can they truly overcome the obstacles to team building.