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The rewards of teamwork and productive leadership in healthcare today

By: Catherine Meliniotis, RN

Is the combination of teamwork and leadership important in nursing and healthcare? The answer to that question is “Yes!”

Strong leadership skills enable teams to provide high quality, visible, and effective patient care. Successful team leadership improves satisfaction among team members and patients, and in turn, improves overall organizational productivity.

Current healthcare is modeled around a multidisciplinary approach to patient care. Nurses work closely with physicians, technicians, therapists, and specialists to provide well-organized, comprehensive care. Teamwork, therefore, is critical to facilitating effective communication and promoting positive patient outcomes. Patient satisfaction is vital to your organization, just as employee engagement is.

Leadership and teamwork have a direct impact on the ability for an organization to carry out its mission and goals and stay competitive. You need leadership to make sure everyone on your team is going in the same direction and working towards the same goal. You need to motivate team members to use their talents and see that they can individually join their hard work to the team’s goals.

What is the importance of teamwork?

A teamwork environment promotes an atmosphere that fosters work friendships and loyalty. These close-knit relationships motivate employees and prompt them to work harder, cooperate and be supportive of one another. Individuals possess a diversity of talents, weaknesses, communication skills, strengths, and habits.

Steps to building a productive team include establishing clear leadership. Cultivate relationships with each of your employees. Build relationships between your employees. Foster teamwork via activities and individual and group supervision. Set ground rules for all to move in the direction of success.

More often than not, effective teamwork is built on the following characteristics:

  • clear direction
  • open and honest communication
  • support of risk taking and change; defined roles
  • mutual accountability
  • free and open communication
  • common goals
  • hearing differences in opinion
  • collaboration
  • inclusive team trust.

A good leader is someone who can inspire others to work together in pursuit of a common goal, such as enhanced patient care. An effective leader has a distinctive set of personal qualities: integrity, courage, initiative, and an ability to handle stress. This individual is often admired in their efforts to think critically, set goals, and skillfully communicate and collaborate.

What are the characteristics of a fruitful team?

Trust, conflict management, commitment, accountability, and focusing on results are the keys. To have a functioning team, trust is imperative; trust is the foundation of a productive team. Transparency assists in trust building. Remaining visible and approachable are also the desired traits of an effective leader.

In today’s quickly evolving environment of healthcare, it’s time to develop creative leadership—the capacity to think and act beyond the boundaries that limit potential. Avoid professional derailment or faltering moves. Why are these a sand trap for some? The short answer: It’s usually because of blind spots—serious leadership weaknesses that professionals ignored (or never even noticed) in the headlong rush to make their numbers. Staying on track means staying focused on interpersonal skills, adaptability, team leadership, and bottom-line results.

Here are some ways to begin to make successful leadership happen

  • Get to know your staff.
  • Focus on relationships.
  • Set clear guidelines.
  • Lead by example.

And here are some ways to promote teamwork in the workplace:

  • Lead the way.
  • Give your teams targets.
  • Provide regular team rewards.
  • Make every meeting a team meeting.
  • Set up team building activities.
  • Open up lines of communication.

Learning and leadership

Consider the word of John F. Kennedy: “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

Never stop getting feedback. Solicit it on a routine basis. Periodically ask your one-up and others, “Am I working on the right things?” After a meeting, when you are walking back to your office with one of your colleagues, you might ask, “How do you think that meeting went? What could I have done better?” Ask for feedback that describes the situation in which you were observed, what you did, and how it affected the person giving you feedback.

Become more self-aware. Recognize your emotional reaction to changes, know your values, and don’t let success go to your head. Your feelings of power can interfere with your willingness to learn from mistakes. Take time out to review the thoughts and feelings connected to your work. Under constant pressure to produce, some leaders believe reflection is a waste of time, but looking for patterns and getting perspective helps you remain flexible in the face of change.

Understand your organizational culture. Knowing how your organization thinks is critical for aligning yourself with its goals and helps you weather the changes that occur in every organization over time. How do decisions get made? What assumptions does your organization make? But be careful not to become too political in navigating the culture. Building on your interpersonal relationship means building trust.

Show empathy. Your direct reports, peers, and bosses are all human beings worthy of your respect. Listen without judgment. Don’t cut people off in the middle of a sentence. Take the feelings and perspectives of others into account. If you’re talking to a direct report, for example, be aware of the balance of power in the relationship and the effect it can have on your interaction.

Learn to listen. Hearing isn’t the same thing as listening. Turn away from email and the pile of papers on your desk and focus on the person in front of you. Separate what you think about the person from what he or she is saying. Ask questions to make sure you understand. If the person talking to you says something intriguing, make a note on it and get back to listening. Make it a goal, by the time the discussion is over, to summarize what you just heard from your colleague – without passing judgement or making snap decisions.

Support your staff. Provide a supportive environment for staff members to try new skills. This will help them learn the correct method and allow them to develop their skills in a competent manner. Allow time to explore each individual and tailor your style to their best comprehension.

Act as a mentor. Being a model for your team members is vital. When you do your best, only the best from your team is expected. Adapt your style to your staff. Take time out to check how they are doing and guide them in the proper direction. Role modeling will help your staff effectively absorb the necessary qualities your organization is seeking.

Inspire and encourage. Keeping your employees motivated to perform at top quality takes clever nursing leadership. Burnout, dealing with absenteeism, and reducing staff tensions takes careful skill. Nursing is a very demanding profession. Be sure to influence a person’s performance and ensure their work has a positive effect. As a leader, you will need to support them and understand them in a way that is useful to them.

Remember the goal is excellence in patient care. Encourage your staff to have empathy with patients and understand their needs, health, and well being to provide progressive, excellent care. A healthy relationship between patient and nurse will often lead to a quick recovery time. As a leader, you should seize every opportunity to motivate people by recognizing their worth, services, or contributions.

It takes a team

Productive teamwork is globally recognized as an essential tool for constructing a more effective and patient-centered health care delivery system. This team-based care requires these core elements and shared values. By closing the gap between traditional practices and new attitudes, the great ambition of a team-based culture can be achieved.

Catherine Meliniotis is a member of the clinical nursing leadership team at Crozer Health System in Pennsylvania


Rosen MA, DiazGranados D, Dietz AS, et al. Teamwork in healthcare: Key discoveries enabling safer, high quality care. Am Psychol. 2018;73(4):433-50.

Mayo AT, Woolley AW. Teamwork in health care: Maximizing collective intelligence via inclusive collaboration and open communication. AMA J Ethics. 2016;18(9):933-40

World Health Organization. Being an effective team player. 2014.

Sullivan E, Decker E. Effective Leadership and Management in Nursing; 2005.

Milstead J, Furlong E. Handbook of Nursing Leadership: Creative Skills for a Culture of Safety; 2005.

The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety. September 2007;33(9).

The views and opinions expressed by Perspectives contributors are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or recommendations of the American Nurses Association, the Editorial Advisory Board members, or the Publisher, Editors and staff of American Nurse Journal. These are opinion pieces and are not peer reviewed.

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