Data Shows Healthcare Has a Collaboration Problem: Here's What to Do
Collaboration is the lifeblood of healthcare. It bridges gaps, facilitates seamless care, and ensures the best patient outcomes. Perceptions of teamwork are also something that healthcare organizations seeking prestigious certifications like the Magnet Recognition Program, developed by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), will have to survey their own staff about. But as recent Perceptyx research reveals, the fabric of cross-departmental teamwork in the healthcare sector is being tested like never before.
The State of Collaboration in Healthcare
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare teams were pushed to their limits. Heavier workloads, staffing deficits, and rapid changes to traditional processes were common experiences. The silver lining? This also proved to be a period of resilience, innovation, and camaraderie.
In the immediate aftermath of the pandemic, we observed stronger favorability scores for team cohesion driven by factors such as:
- A fortified sense of community
- Increased resilience and support,
- A renewed sense of purpose, and
- The removal of workplace silos.
However, challenges remain. Notably, there's a significant gap between how effectively internal teams work together when compared to cross-departmental collaboration, with the latter seeing a decline. Let’s dive into the data.
The Challenges: Perceptyx Benchmarks and Insights
Perceptyx data has highlighted a concerning aspect of healthcare collaboration – one that prompted me to write this article: cross-departmental cooperation has been consistently lower than internal team collaboration. All healthcare systems are experiencing a decline in cooperation across departments, even the best ones in the top decile. This issue has been deepening year over year, with a disparity of approximately 20 percentage points between internal teams and cross-departmental teams. The implications of this widening gap are profound, impacting patient care, administrative efficiency, and the overall work environment.
Through our healthcare provider and RN panel research, as well as our national benchmark trends, we’ve identified several factors that have increased the tension across groups:
- Leadership Approach: Senior leaders often employ a top-down approach, pushing changes without ample bottom-up communication.
- Shift Transitions: Ineffective communication during shift changes and patient hand-offs can lead to mistakes and misalignments in patient care.
- Toxic Dynamics: Particularly between RNs, physicians, and nursing assistants (NAs), strained relations can seriously hamper patient care.
- Staffing Issues: Staffing shortages mean healthcare professionals often have to take on additional responsibilities, leading to burnout.
- Unclear Processes: The absence of standardized processes and frequently changing protocols can sow confusion.
- Burnout: The demanding nature of healthcare jobs, especially during crises, can lead to professional burnout, affecting collaboration.
The old command-and-control approach in healthcare systems only aggravates these issues. An excess of rapid changes, coupled with inadequate clarity on their implications for frontline workers, often results in reduced trust and confidence in leadership. As a result, there has been a shift to a more collaborative approach, though research indicates this transition has been hampered by staffing shortages and increases in workload (Anjara et al., 2021).
The data from our provider/RN panels and national benchmark trends also capture a declining trend in the work cohesion of physicians and staff, especially between nurses and physicians — currently at 77.7%, down from 87.9% in 2021. The reasons behind this strained relationship include:
- “Us vs. Them” Dichotomy: A growing feeling of division where each group feels they operate in silos.
- Power Imbalance: The hierarchical nature of the medical field can sometimes overshadow collaborative efforts.
- Scope and Goals: Differing views on patient care practices and end goals.
- Gender Conflict: An age-old issue, gender differences and associated biases occasionally play a role in teamwork dynamics.
Strategies to Foster Teamwork and Collaboration
The issues faced in healthcare can be instructive for other sectors as well. Collaboration and teamwork are foundational pillars across industries, and understanding the challenges and solutions in one field can provide actionable insights for others.
To foster greater collaboration, organizations should consider adopting the following measures:
- Leadership Commitment: It's not enough for leaders to merely advocate for teamwork; they must embody it. Leaders must spearhead the charge by manifesting a commitment to teamwork in every action, policy, and procedure. By setting a clear vision and demonstrating its importance at every hierarchical level, they can ensure that the ethos of collaboration permeates the organization. Moreover, their active participation in teamwork initiatives can serve as a model for others, showcasing the importance of collective effort.
- Trust and Psychological Safety: Trust forms the backbone of any thriving team environment. Building environments where every member feels valued, and where open dialogue is encouraged, is essential. When team members believe their voices matter and that they can voice concerns without backlash, it nurtures a culture of innovation and problem-solving. Psychological safety ensures that employees are more invested, engaged, and open to collaborative endeavors, knowing that they're in a supportive environment.
- Clear Processes and Protocols: In the intricate world of healthcare, ambiguity can be a significant roadblock. Especially in healthcare, standardized, evidence-based guidelines can help ensure consistency in patient care. These protocols not only reduce the chance of errors but also provide a clear roadmap for teams from different departments to collaborate. By having set guidelines, professionals can focus on collaborative care rather than deciphering variances in procedures.
- Feedback-Driven Improvement: Open channels of communication are pivotal. Regular feedback sessions can help identify bottlenecks and areas of improvement, making collaboration more fluid. By actively seeking input from team members at all levels — here something like crowdsourcing facilitated by a product like Dialogue from Perceptyx can work wonders — leaders can get a holistic view of the organizational dynamics. This ongoing loop of communication ensures that strategies are always evolving and improving, meeting the real-time needs of the team. For example, our research shows that healthcare safety culture has been greatly improved by crowdsourcing solutions to persistent problems.
- Recognition and Rewards: A little acknowledgment can go a long way. Recognizing and rewarding collaborative efforts can motivate teams to work better together. It's essential to celebrate the collective wins and highlight the significance of teamwork in achieving them. By putting a spotlight on these collaborative achievements, organizations can foster a culture where teamwork is not just encouraged but celebrated. An AI-powered product like Cultivate Intelligent Coaching from Perceptyx can also help, reminding managers when they haven’t recognized or even communicated with team members.
- Addressing Burnout: Burnout is an issue that can slowly erode the fabric of a team. By offering support, manageable workloads, and initiatives for mental well-being, organizations can tackle the root causes of burnout. Providing avenues for rest, rejuvenation, and professional development ensures that healthcare professionals are always at their best. When teams feel supported and valued, they're not only less likely to experience burnout but also more likely to collaborate effectively.
In conclusion, while the challenges are multifaceted, with a dedicated approach, healthcare institutions and other organizations can foster an environment of robust collaboration, ensuring the best outcomes for patients and professionals alike.
Perceptyx Delivers the Insights You Need to Foster Cross-Departmental Collaboration
To check out our deepest dive yet into the healthcare workplace, click here to download our 2023 special report, State of the Healthcare Employee Experience. If you're keen to harness these insights for your organization, schedule a meeting with us.