Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jennifer Frank, MD: There's no "I" in "team"

Busyness and stress erode a team’s cohesion. My husband is my primary teammate. Together we are raising four children, managing my career, keeping our home running (even smoothly at times), and occasionally even interacting with each other.

At work, my faculty colleagues are my primary team. We support each other during difficult days, cover each others’ patient care responsibilities, and commiserate about the numerous challenges we all face. Moments of true team cohesion feel really good. We get in a groove, work together towards a mutually important outcome, and smile at each other while doing it. Encouragement, support, understanding, and good will are the undercurrents of the team.

Unfortunately, the team doesn’t always work well.
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Busyness breeds isolation. I run off to take the kids for a haircut while my husband goes in the opposite direction to get groceries. Isolation can foster delusions of persecution. I’m doing all the work around here. Nobody else is as stressed as I am. Good will evaporates, even as logic demands that everyone is busy and stressed. A lack of communication born of too many fires to put out or too many patients to see or too many little people needing a bath inevitably leads to even less communication and that leads to more isolation. You see where I am going with this.

The less connected I am with my teammates — at home or at work — the less connection I tend to seek as I hunker down into an increasingly selfish spiral of what is bothering me, what is important to me, what I have to do, what is on my to-do list. It gets ugly. I also notice that my team members behave similarly. They are less generous in cutting me slack when I don’t get something done. They are not as quick with a smile or a friendly “good morning.” It gets uglier. Sometimes someone is so frustrated and disconnected that they quit the team.

How can I protect against this? Well, for starters, communication is key to the successful running of a team. (When is it ever the case that communication is not key to success?) I force myself to start a conversation with a colleague I have only breezed by during the week on my way to this task or that task. During our chat I discover that he or she is carrying a heavy load and I understand more, am willing to extend myself more for them, and see my own worries in a new light.

Two other ingredients are important. First, I need a margin around myself — a little extra time, energy, understanding, patience — so that I have it available to a team member who may need it. Second, I need to assume the best, instead of the worst. If my feelings were hurt by the fact that my husband has yet to read any of my blog posts, I remember that he is usually too busy to sit down and when he does, he inevitably falls asleep.

Teamwork is just that — work. However, the times when I look up at work or at home and catch a teammate’s eye and smile, knowing that we are in it together energizes me to continue the work.

Jennifer Frank, MD, FAAFP, is an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin Department of Family Medicine and a faculty family physician at the Fox Valley Family Medicine Residency Program in Appleton, Wis. She is a mother of four, whose husband, also a physician, is a stay-at-home dad.

1 comment:

  1. I have too read your blog posts! I'm just a month behind, that's all. ;P