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How can I get my staff to work as a team?

Q: My staff consists of smart, capable individuals, who are great at accomplishing their own tasks. But when it comes to teamwork, especially team projects, results are sorely lacking. What am I doing wrong?

A: First, kudos on what sounds like a great staff. “Smart, capable individuals” certainly provide a strong foundation for building a team. But, as you’ve discovered, there’s more to teamwork than throwing a group of people together and saying have at it.

It may sound contradictory but in order to find creative solutions and solve problems, people require structure. Are you providing that structure?

For starters, the team needs to have a clear understanding of what the project entails. This requires explaining the why and the what for. Depending on the scope of the project, it may also require detailing initial steps, as well as asking for a series of deliverables—rather than just a final result. Similarly, a timetable keeps everything and everyone on track.

Depending on the size of the team and the scope of the project, a team leader may be necessary. Sometimes this happens by default, but you probably don’t want to leave it to chance.

If your team projects are going off track, chances are you’re missing several of these essential components.

But it takes more than a project or two to get people to work as team. It sounds like what you’re really looking to do is create a team mindset at your practice, where it’s all for one and one for all. This requires different building blocks.

Employers both large and small have found nothing builds a work team like playing together as a team. It’s one of the reasons company softball teams are so popular. The camaraderie that happens on the field carries over to the workplace.

Office bowling teams and company bowling leagues are also popular. The interaction and bonding, not to mention the focus on skill development, can have a positive impact on your practice.

If your staff is a more cerebral group, you might want to consider creating a trivia team and competing at different events. Answering trivia questions together can help employees learn to brainstorm as a group.

Of course, not everyone will participate in after-hours activities. Employees may have other obligations or might not be interested. And the risk of not including the entire staff is that, well, the entire staff is not included.

Still, as long as you make it clear that everyone is welcome, and you keep the invitation to join open, you shouldn’t alienate anyone.

It’s also worth pointing out that participation doesn’t have to be ongoing. The softball team can always use backup players.

At the same time, you’ll want to let people know they don’t have to play in order to attend. If Sue isn’t into softball, but wants to sit on the sidelines, cheering the team on, encourage her to do so. Remember, you’re building a workplace team, not a professional sports team.

You’ll find that these types of teambuilding experiences can enhance workplace interaction, and that the results are obvious and almost immediate.

Nevertheless, you’ll want to keep an eye out for any misconceptions that may result from these experiences. For example, Joe may hog the outfield, but in the office he is still the mild-mannered billing clerk to whom patients enjoy speaking. And although Sally may be extremely knowledgeable about all things Civil War, as evidenced on trivia night, she still hasn’t mastered ICD-10 coding, despite multiple training sessions.

As with any team, your staff has strengths and weaknesses. By getting them to work together, you can build on the strengths—and build a more successful medical office.

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