Flatlined Connectedness: Reviving Healthcare Teams in a Disconnected Culture

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Insights from Nancy Spangler, PhD  |

teamwork and connectednessIn our first blog in the Connectedness Series, we discussed the benefits and drawbacks that the advancement of technology has on connectedness in the workplace especially as it impacts the healthcare arena. However, technology is impacting connectedness in many workplaces, which makes us ask, “What is unique about physicians?”

The presenters I heard suggested that the medical training process itself sets super-human expectations, exposes clinicians to secondary trauma, and models a lack of self-care.

Others said that clinicians are unlikely to seek needed mental health care for themselves for fear they might lose their license or at a minimum lose respect among a group of highly competitive group professionals.

A few shared that clinicians feel a great sense of guilt and loss when they’ve made an error or failed to heal their patients, and there are few opportunities to process and discuss what goes wrong. These are more difficult, but not insurmountable, issues to face aside from administrative and time burdens.

What are some solutions? There were a handful of physician attendees who were newly appointed as chief well-being officers, either specifically for physicians or for the entire organization. Several speakers representing a racial or ethnic minority suggested compassionate mentors helped them navigate how to fit into the culture at their institution.

Others described intensive institution-wide interventions to help train clinicians in resilience-building and leadership training to enhance organizational and systems change. In general, enhanced awareness of root causes of burnout (and its alternative, thriving), along with opportunities for more dialogue and collaborative problem-solving, may help to reduce the “we-they” perception that disconnectedness can bring and help clinicians find the sense of belonging that all humans seek.

Going one step further, in terms of building resiliency through connection, research is clear to show that connection fosters collaboration which is vital to cultivating high functioning teams. Secondly, teams that are diverse in makeup and experience have better clinical outcomes by reducing adverse events and increasing patient and staff satisfaction. Thirdly, team leaders who promote high levels of connectedness engender trust and have an increased degree of camaraderie and willingness to help their team members in times of need.

Dependability and consistency within the healthcare setting is crucial to fostering connectedness whether it’s showing up prepared to discuss patient management as part of multidisciplinary rounds, or serving faithfully on a hospital committee, the act of being reliably present helps increase connectedness.

There are many ways to build connections that meet the specific intra- and interpersonal needs of individual team members as well as serve the organizational mission. Connection can happen spontaneously – be open! – but remember that connection may also need intentional attention.

Join the conversation! On teams where you felt the strongest sense of connection, what attributes did you see emerge from participants that helped create a connected culture? What about from the team leaders?