Team and culture: Build it (keep it healthy) and they will come

“In my experience teamwork isn’t a one off ‘initiative’ It’s a commitment to everyone’s personal and professional development, creating opportunities to learn new skills, use existing knowledge and contribute ideas”. 

Team: Build it (keep it healthy) and they will come 

In my experience teamwork isn’t a one off ‘initiative’.  It’s a commitment to everyone’s personal and professional development, creating opportunities to learn new skills, use existing knowledge and contribute ideas.

Take the time to work out and understand your team’s strengths and use this understanding to constantly problem solve. This is a crucial part of any Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG). The time, effort, attention and energy needed to build strong relationships is not dissimilar to what we all expend to sustain relationships with friends and family.

There are so many priorities when commencing any large project.  This week we’ll cover the 8 top lessons I’ve learned about teamwork.  I hope they help.

Take-Away Message #1: It’s worth looking for Rough Diamonds

One of the best things about working with JMOs on OTW has been finding rough diamonds. It’s not always the person that speaks the loudest or is the most confident that you’ll want working on your project.  I’ve found the unassuming JMO, the diamond in the rough requiring mentoring, direction or guidance, is almost always worth taking the time to engage.  If you pay attention you might see a glimmer of a spark.  Does this person deliver on their promises?  If they can’t deliver, do they explain why and communicate?  These are all good signs.  Provide an opportunity for them to step up, support them to do so and most of the time they will.   When everyone says there is little or no reason to believe that this person will be able to deliver, use your own judgment.  If I had listened to what others had said, there would be many high rated blogs that would have not made the cut.  Trust your judgement.

Take-Away Message #2: The Small Stuff Counts

Listening to your team, being flexible, paying attention to what matters – is the small stuff that counts.  Having high levels of dialogue, debate and discussion will help you achieve shared understanding and commitment1.

As JMOs you are in regular contact with colleagues and co-workers, so communication isn’t difficult to understand.  But do you remember when your colleague in Oncology said they’d be getting married?  What about your colleague from Gastroenterology, when is she expecting her first child?  This is the “small stuff” that counts. It’s what matters to your colleagues, it will matter to your team: remembering the personal information someone has shared with you.

OTW places me in a unique, some say privileged, position, working directly with everyone. It takes work and an ongoing commitment to sustain and keep everyone engaged to contribute.  The secret ingredient is having a genuine interest and curiosity to understand your team.  It takes consistent energy, time and effort to build strong working relationships and trust.

Take-Away Message #3: It will be hard.  Persist.  You can do it.

Juggling a day job, Masters, family commitments and producing high quality content for publication week in week out – without fail – is hard.  Building your project will take hard work too.  Working late nights will be the norm rather than the exception.  If you and your team are passionate and believe in what you’re building, my experience is that they will deliver, even in the 11th hour. Embrace the opportunity even when success is uncertain. Work through the unknown that comes with introducing change (as with the change in terms every 10 – 12 weeks during internship). You’ll be surprised at what you can collectively achieve.

Take-Away Message #4: Finding Time, Making Time

I’ve found that the major challenge to engaging doctors, junior or senior, is not their lack of interest but their lack of time.  Navigating how to work as a team with colleagues is about remembering the stuff that matters to them.  To make it work for everyone, be flexible about the day-to-day changes that occur. Give people time to deliver (even if the deadline has come and gone – micromanaging doesn’t produce better outcomes).   And If you have got this far, congratulations.  You’ve taken your idea and built a strong, collaborative and engaging ecosystem and culture to make it happen: you’ve created and become member of a trusted team.

Culture: trust, a safe ecosystem to work, collaborate and communicate

A by-product of all that you’ve created yet an equally important component not mentioned thus far, but crucial for sustainability and your project’s success, is trust.  Your team needs to trust each other, to work with transparency and fairness 2.

Take-Away Message #5: Trust will allow the team to feel safe

Trust allows the team to feel safe in the environment that they work, whether this on a project or when working on the wards.  A safe and supported working environment can remove barriers for learning.  Allowing room for error, error being a part of the learning cycle, within a safe learning space is vital. Positive environments and working relationships based on mutual trust and understanding will provide the space for productivity and success of your project2.

Take-Away Message #6: Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more

Communication is a skill that allows you to understand what another person is saying, to share ideas and to disagree – and reach better solutions, create improvements. Without it you have no team, you can’t start, share, invest, build or ask for what you want or need. So communicate openly and honestly.  Evidence has shown how failing to communicate can cause medical errors to occur and that effective communication can lead to improved information flow, patient safety and family satisfaction.  Good communication also has a positive impact to individuals (your) morale, encourages teamwork and fosters wellbeing3.

Take-Away Message #7: Recognise individual’s contributions and celebrate their successes

Recognise a team member’s contribution and their work, identify and foster their interests and strengths, encourage effort and celebrate their successes.  A team member’s success is your success and that of what you are building.  Collective success is powerful and a great motivator.

If a team member appreciates and is proud of what they have created or achieved and appreciates the environment in which they work they will want others to see and know about this as well. They are engaged, proud and will be willing to do more than the minimum, they will be willing to ‘go the extra mile’ for the reputation of what they have helped to build4.

Take-Away Message #8:  Have fun

Most importantly remember that you will learn a lot, skills that are not necessarily related to your day-to-day clinical work.  Building your project will teach you to communicate, delegate, create networking opportunities and learn some project management skills.  It should also be fun and an enjoyable challenge.

Finally, everyone wants to feel appreciated for their efforts, so don’t discount the importance a ‘thank you’ makes.

Now it’s Your Turn!

This series is about sharing lessons we’ve learned, to help you with your ideas.


  1. Peter Spurgeon , Paul Long , John Clark , Frank Daly , (2015) “Do we need medical leadership or medical engagement?”, Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 28 Iss: 3, pp.173 – 184
  2. R. Sutton, (2007) “Building the civilized workplace”, Human Resource Management International Digest, Vol. 15 Iss: 7
  3. O’Daniel, Michelle, and Alan H. Rosenstein. “Professional communication and team collaboration.” (2008).
  4. P Spurgeon, P M Mazelan and F Barwell. “Medical engagement: a crucial underpinning to organizational performance.” Health Services Management Research 2011; 24: 114–120

Leave a Reply