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Why Don’t Teams Make the Effort to Improve Collaboration?

December 17, 2015


I was facilitating a retreat with a senior team. The goal was to improve collaboration among diverse individuals. We were making solid progress. There was a frank discussion about the group’s challenges and a developing plan of specific actions to make the team more successful. We had started by looking at group results in an in-depth behavioral leadership assessment, and tied the results to organizational and group challenges.465076121

This is the senior team of a leading academic medical center. They had dedicated an entire afternoon to the exercise, and all agreed that it was important and that the work would help them to succeed. The question came up – “Why don’t groups dedicate time to this?”

As we recently discussed, the challenges facing senior healthcare teams are for more complex than ever before. The solutions to the problems they are facing require new levels of innovation and collaboration, but many of these teams simply don’t function well enough as a group to be successful. They are held back by a lack of trust, the inability to productively resolve conflict, deliver a consistent message or support each other.

There are three conditions necessary before a group can really improve collaboration:

  1. A belief that collaboration impacts performance. Team members need to believe that improving collaboration doesn’t just make people in the group feel better – it makes the group more effective. The initial reaction of some people to committing time to improving collaboration skills? “We have real work to do – we can’t spend time talking about “how” we do the work. We need to get the work done and we don’t have time for these exercises.” So – you’d rather spend months working on a complex project without success, than commit an afternoon and then a few minutes each meeting, to group function, to ensure those months yield results?
  2. Recognition that the group is, at least a little, dysfunctional. Most groups, when they think about what collaboration really is, quickly acknowledge that they struggle, and that those struggles negatively impact their ability to accomplish organizational goals. This is hard. It requires a hard look in the mirror. It requires recognition that some group and individual behaviors are counterproductive. It’s rare that a group can even start this discussion on their own. All of the dynamics and dysfunction impede the ability to even discuss the dynamics and dysfunction!
  3. A willingness to get their hands dirty. Assume the group can agree that there is dysfunction, and that dysfunction negatively impacts organizational performance. Are they willing to dig into the specifics and have a frank discussion on an on-going basis and actually evaluate and change behavior?

The changes might be as simple as improving the process of setting the agenda or as nuanced as finding ways to encourage dissent, appropriately challenge ideas, or be less tolerant of disruptive group behavior and actually identifying it and changing the group’s expectations. Regardless of whether they are a process or relationship of changes, it will take real work – including a willingness to evaluate and improve group function on an on-going basis – to make constant evaluation and modification a habit.

Another important factor is that Healthcare is just starting to appreciate the value of executive assessment when hiring senior leaders. It’s much easier to get a team to collaborate when they were all hired with collaboration in mind and a valid, in-depth evaluation of their leadership skills.

 Healthcare Culture

Bryan Warren Bryan Warren was the former Director of Healthcare Solutions at PSI. He was responsible for developing and promoting tools and services designed specifically for the unique challenges faced by healthcare organizations.