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Team Gel – When Things Don’t Stick and Stand Up Like Hair Gel

You step up to do the same thing you’ve done a million times before. You’re good! It always worked like magic. But something is different about this time. It’s not working. What gives?

If whatever you have to do depends on a team, maybe the team hasn’t gelled yet. Don’t ignore this critical step!

About two months ago, I was asked to demonstrate a patient assessment technique in front of a class of 20 or so students. It was a spur of the moment thing, but I looked at my partner – the Chief Medical Officer for the county program – and I thought: this would be pretty easy. He knows what he’s doing. I know what I’m doing. This should be great. The Chief instructor asked me to demonstrate the technique exactly as if it were real. I would play the role of the senior medic.

“Just go.” He said. “Don’t stop to explain anything. Let’s show everyone what this looks like in real-time”

“Sure.” I said. “I’ll do it.”

We stepped up and got started…

Now the classroom setting is always a challenge for me because it’s not real. I’ve done the real thing so many times that if a student who doesn’t know what the real thing looks like, tries to simulate the real thing, there are usually lot’s of details that don’t add up. Classrooms can be confusing, but that alone didn’t explain our performance.

He (my new partner) took C-Spine (stabilized the head). I established rapport and started my physical exam. He (my new partner) started asking my patient questions. I was asking my patient questions. We asked a few questions at the same time! That poor patient!

He took a history while I was busy examining. This meant that, unless he gave me a full report before I had to contact medical control, I wouldn’t have the information I need to report to the hospital. Several little things like this popped up during the two minutes we worked together. We got it done, but I think we both came away a little disappointed in our performance.

There is nothing wrong with my partner’s skills or methodology. He’s used them successfully for many years. The same can be said for my skills or methodology. They are just different. When combined, there was overlap, uncertainty, and confusion. The end result looked choppy and was probably confusing to the patient.

This same situation plays out in government offices. Two or more people come together to work on a project, but they don’t know one another yet. Individually, they are awesome performers. As a team, they look like a mess.

The answer to this particular problem lies with getting to know your partners / team and building good will ahead of time. People have to know one another: strengths and weaknesses, tendencies, temperaments, likes and dislikes, senses of humor, etc. Building good will gives you a much-needed bank of positive energy you can draw from when things get difficult.

Veteran teams seem to flow intuitively. New teams sometimes bump into one another, work against one another, and get red in the face.

Getting to know your partners / team often means spending time with them. This time doesn’t all have to be in a work setting. The really great teams I’ve been a part of know one another outside of the office. We don’t all have to like one another or socialize every Friday night, but knowing what others are made of can make a huge difference in group dynamics.

Building good will means improving the energy in your relationship. Doing nice things, establishing rapport, meeting on common ground… doing what it takes to make your relationships strong.

Getting to know partners / co-workers and building good will takes time, but it should be a part of our daily routine. Here are some ideas for getting to know partners / team mates a little better:

  • Ask them out for a cup of coffee or lunch. Food has been bringing people together for centuries.
  • Drop in for a visit to their office or cubical
  • When you visit them, look for photos on their desk, catching signs / slogans or other evidence of interests. Explore those interests.
  • Consult your partners early / often. Even if you don’t necessarily need help, asking might give you insights into how your team-mates / partners would respond
  • Don’t always talk business. Ask about hobbies, family, their weekend and other interests.
  • Share things. When you find something cool, share it. Even if your partner / co-worker isn’t interested, they will learn something about what you like
  • Work together on small projects. This is a good way to establish group dynamics.

There are lots of other ways we can get to know our team mates / partners ahead of time. If you’ve got an idea, please post it below.

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