July 14, 2008

Seven Ways to Improve Your Team
By Laura Wynohrad, BS, RT(R)(M)(MR)
Radiology Today
Vol. 9 No. 14 P. 12

There is a buzz in healthcare today called employee engagement, and you will find countless suggestions about how to make employees feel connected with the organization for which they work. The feeling of engagement is not dependent on one coworker or one manager; it hinges on the employee feeling that he or she is part of something that matters. Having a team that is efficient and mutually respectful is integral to this experience.

Here are some experiences and suggestions that may be helpful as you strive to improve your team.

1. Become interested in your team members. A team leader or manager must be genuinely interested in the people he or she is attempting to lead, such as asking, “Hi Sarah, how’s it going today?” Casual discussions with your team members help, but what I’m talking about goes beyond friendly banter. Get to know your people’s strengths and weaknesses on a new level. Learn what makes them tick.

Some tools that work well for this are the Myers-Briggs personality indicator (www.myersbriggs.org) or the Clifton StrengthFinder assessment (www.strengthsfinder.com). As a leader, you will likely benefit from studying the results of each team member and sharing their results with them. You may be surprised at the growth in your relationship after this exercise.

2. Be open and honest. This lesson came from a public speaking course I took many years ago, and the advice has never steered me in the wrong direction. There may be times when, as a leader, you cannot be completely open or free to give an answer that your team members seek. However, you can still be honest in your answer. Lying will do more damage to your relationship than any other mistake you could make. Employees understand that everyone makes mistakes but to be intentionally dishonest is one they will never forget.

3. Be very clear about the values of the department or organization. Most organizations have some type of values statement. In most cases, everyone reads it at orientation, files it away, and never looks at it again. Make yourself the advocate and enforcer of these values. Post them on the wall and include them on every agenda. Recite them at the beginning of each meeting; get creative in keeping them in front of your people. Values should be taken seriously and used as a guide to help leaders and employees make better choices in their daily work. If you are uncertain of the best way to resolve a conflict, pull out your value statement to use as a tool to help with your decision.

If those values are not integrated into your institution’s performance evaluations, have a copy handy to discuss how the employee’s performance adheres to the values. Doing so can help reinforce your facility’s values in an employee’s work life. When you hire or interview a new employee or team member, discuss the values at the interview. Show them that you take these values seriously, and discuss your expectations in that regard from the very beginning.

The values should also be used as a guide when discipline is necessary. If an employee is not meeting expectations, you will most likely be able to tie the behavior to something in your institution’s value statement, and discuss how the employee is not following the desired behavior.

4. Be a good example of those values. Good leaders always “walk the talk.” Leader status does not give you permission to break the rules or, worse, make your own rules. Employees and team members pay close attention to the leader’s behavior, and they will model the behavior. If a leader has a habit of showing up late for meetings, complaining, or participating in gossip, the majority of his or her employees will demonstrate those same behaviors. If you want to see exceptional results from your employees, you must start by living the values yourself.

Think of a group of children playing. Children follow the natural “leader.” They follow the child that behaves like a positive leader, the one that plays fair and has a positive energy. Children don’t follow the person that cheats, lies, or bullies. These behaviors may induce fear, but they do not develop respect.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If you permit it, you promote it”? The biggest behavioral problem that I’ve faced in the radiology department is the rumor mill. I have had to confront employees in the past for bad gossip habits, and I simply said, “If you wouldn’t say it to someone’s face, then don’t say it.”

 None of us would be proud to admit that we promote gossip among our employees, but by permitting the behavior to take place, that’s exactly what we do. Make a commitment to yourself that starting today, gossip and rumors are not allowed within your team. It is amazing how much more productive your team will be when this bad habit is eliminated.

5. Do what is best for the team, not for yourself. We all face difficult situations in our jobs, and there is usually an easy way out and a difficult one. If you ask yourself “What is best for the team?” the answer will usually be clear—if not always easy. When you put the team’s needs above your own, you’ll make more right decisions and be proud of the results. This will mean handling some uncomfortable confrontations and making some personal sacrifices in your work life, but your team will respect you, and they will perform better if they see that your priorities are for the betterment of the team.

You may find that to better understand your employees’ frustrations, you must experience their pain. If you normally don’t spend some time each week in the trenches, make sure you start. By performing, or even spending time observing, imaging exams in the department, you’ll quickly learn what is working and what is not. Spending some time with patients and other staff will give you a new appreciation for your employees and may change your perspective on what matters most in the facility.

6. Solicit feedback. It’s important to get feedback from your customers, whether they are patients, team members, or other internal customers. Sometimes we get so focused on our perspective that we don’t see what appear to be problems in our customers’ eyes. I always say, “If I don’t know it’s broken, I can’t fix it.” A good leader seeks ways to improve themselves and their team.

For example, it may be helpful to invite your referring physicians to complete a survey assessing your department’s customer service. You could either create one on paper or use an electronic form. Surveymonkey.com is a free service available that is fairly easy to use. Check with your institution’s public relations department for ideas or assistance.

7. Have some fun. Let your employees be creative and enjoy their day at work. As a leader, make it a priority to celebrate team accomplishments and recognize others for their time and energy for the sake of the team. This can be in the form of your daily environment or planned gatherings or parties. When you get to know your team members, you will know the best way to accomplish having fun in your team.

All areas of healthcare, including radiology, are growing at breathtaking speed. We are facing many challenges from all directions: staffing, technology, expenses, going digital—the list grows daily. Your most important asset is your employees. You need them to be productive, and they need you to lead them. Focusing on your team is a choice that can produce a high return on investment.

— Laura Wynohrad, BS, RT(R)(M)(MR), has worked in radiology and leadership roles for the past 15 years. She lives in Iowa where she is enrolled in a master of healthcare administration program.