It takes a village to treat a patient.
That is why good nursing teamwork is so important.
If your nursing units don’t function well together, it not only makes work frustrating for your nurses, it can literally affect patient outcomes for the worst.
Cultivating a strong nursing team takes a lot of time and effort. However, it pays dividends down the line.
Here are nine strategies to help build a strong nursing team
1. Don’t rush things artificially
Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were good nursing relationships. It takes time to figure out the personalities of all your teammates and to establish rapport.
Trying to artificially rush things can make your working relationships incredibly awkward. It can even backfire altogether. (HINT: there’s a reason people hate icebreaker games so much).
Start small, such as grabbing lunch or coffee with a couple of coworkers. Then, build the relationships from there.
2. Promote clear and consistent communication
Whether it’s a marriage or a nursing unit, good communication is the foundation of any solid and successful team. Whether it’s written or verbal, always strive to be clear and understandable as you communicate with your coworkers. Encourage them to reach out for clarification if needed. Be sure to demonstrate your willingness to answer legitimate questions.
3. Encourage both openness and trust.
It can be tricky to hit the balance between these two important attributes. On one hand, you want your nurses to feel comfortable discussing important topics, such as unfair workplace treatment or difficult patients. This will help you to craft solutions together.
On the other hand, however, you don’t want the culture to be so open that gossip quickly spreads. This will undermine trust and make people feel like they can’t say anything if they don’t want the entire hospital to know.
If you’re a nurse manager, your nurses will look to you to set the tone for the unit. So do your best to be candid with your staff (when appropriate). And don’t perpetuate gossip no matter how tempting it might be.
4. Make sure roles are clearly defined
If it’s everyone’s responsibility, then it’s really no one’s. Either the task won’t get done because everyone thinks someone else is doing it or the same few overachievers will end up picking up the slack, eventually burning out from all the extra work and maybe even hanging up their scrubs for good as a result.
To avoid this scenario, make sure that roles are clearly defined and that each person knows what their job is and how to do it. Again, it all goes back to clear communication: Broadcasting expectations for roles keeps nurses from having to guess what their job is or what their supervisors want.
5. Don’t brush conflicts under the rug
Dealing with conflicts can be messy, dramatic and emotionally exhausting. Sometimes, it feels easier to just sweep things under the rug rather than address the dispute head-on.
But ignoring conflicts will just set you up for even bigger arguments in the future. And lead to festering tensions that can impair the quality of nurses’ work. If you have an issue with a coworker, try to address it with them directly rather than involving a supervisor, at least at first.
If you are the supervisor, encourage your employees to stand up for themselves and talk things out in a measured, adult way. However, do let them know you’re willing to act as a third-party mediator if they can’t resolve the conflict on their own.
6. Learn from mistakes
Whether it’s large or small, every single nurse is going to make a mistake at some point in their career. Rather than punishing or shaming them for their slip-up, seek to understand why it happened. More importantly, seek to find ways that your team can avoid repeating the error in the future.
Practice empathy and put yourself in their nursing shoes. How many errors have you made during your nursing career? Every mistake is a potential teachable moment. Remember, nurses won’t improve unless they have someone to gently point out where they went wrong and show them the right way to do things.
7. Share in both success and failure.
Oftentimes in teams, people clamber to take credit for a successful project. Or they point fingers at everyone else when something goes wrong. Rarely, however, is only one person responsible for either the credit or blame when it comes to working in teams. Of course, the same is true when the team is a nursing unit.
Show your team this in action by sharing in both their triumphs and failures. Don’t throw anyone under the bus when something goes wrong. After all, they are probably looking to you to see how they should act.
8. Remember that no one is perfect
Every nurse, yourself included, cannot deliver 100 percent perfection 100 percent of the time. Mistakes will be made. Life gets in the way and people can’t stick to agreements they previously made.
Encourage your team to be upfront when this happens to them. The sooner people know what’s happening, the sooner they can make a contingency plan.
Yes, it’s uncomfortable when you can’t come through as you promised. But it happens to everyone and delaying the inevitable will only make things worse.
9. Recognize team members for true accomplishments.
People know when they’re being complimented for something that wasn’t actually a big deal. And they definitely know when they’re not being recognized for a hard job well done.
Recognize your nurses when they truly go above and beyond, whether that’s just a heartfelt “thank you” or handing out fun awards to people in your unit. Keep in mind that this recognition may look different for each person. Some people love being applauded in front of the whole team, while others prefer to receive a nice card with little fanfare.
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The bottom line
Building a strong nursing team takes a lot of work, but it’s far from impossible. Follow these nine tips to make sure your nursing unit is working together to reach its full potential.
Deborah Swanson is a Coordinator for the Real Caregivers Program at Allheart. A site dedicated to celebrating medical professionals and their journeys. She keeps busy interviewing caregivers and writing about them and loves gardening.