The Most Important Member of the Team is the Team

“No one person, no one alliance, no one nation, no one of us is as smart as all of us thinking together.” – Admiral James Stavridis (Ret), US Navy, and former Supreme Allied Commander Europe

“[In medicine,] we have trained, hired and rewarded people to be cowboys, but it’s pit crews that we need.” – Atul Gawande, author of ‘How Do We Heal Medicine?’

“A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself and his contribution to praise the skills of the others.” – Norman Shidle

You may recall from my last message two weeks ago that my father was involved in a motorcycle accident and suffered a serious brain injury.  Fortunately the EMT’s identified the signs of injury quickly enough and had him airlifted from the scene of the accident to the nearest trauma center – San Antonio Military Medical Hospital (SAMMC).   It is there I spent a week in the ICU unit watching over my father’s recovery.  It is there I watched his strength, courage, and dogged determinism turn the situation from a tragedy into a miracle in the making.

But today’s message is not a story about my father’s recovery (although I’ll update you on that later on).  Rather, this is a tribute to the doctors, nurses, and staff members at SAMMC.  It’s also a reflection on the lessons they taught me about leadership and teamwork while caring for him during this difficult time.

First, a brief history on SAMMC – formerly Brookes General Hospital, SAMMC is a Level I Trauma Center, part of the Brookes Army Medical Center under our US Army branch of the military (although members of all branches serve in this center).  If you’ve ever seen a veteran amputee walking on their prosthetics, chances are high they were treated at SAMMC at some point in their recovery.

In partnership with the University of Texas Health Science Center, it also serves as a teaching hospital for our military’s medical trainees.   And through that affiliation with the University of Texas Health Science Center, it also serves the civilian population, notably in situations involving severe trauma.

This is my first experience with SAMMC, but it is one that will leave a lasting impression on my life.  Not only because they helped save my father (and for that I will forever be grateful), but because they taught me such valuable lessons that can be applied both in my public and private lives.  Lessons in leadership.  Lessons in teamwork and collaboration.  Lessons in respect, dignity, and honor.  And lessons on the importance of transparency, honesty, and clear communication.

From the moment we entered in to the ICU waiting room until the day my father was transferred back to Houston, this staff treated him like the most important patient in the building.  I know he wasn’t, because they also treated every other patient the same way.  They explained my father’s situation to us in as much detail as we could stand, then, insisted we ask questions to clarify what wasn’t clearly articulated.  They took the time to explain the meaning behind their actions, techniques, and therapy as they performed it.  They were honest on the reality of the situation, but compassionate for our feelings.

One particular observation still holds my fascination.  Every morning as the staff would rotate through to check in on my father, they would hold a debriefing just outside the hospital room (their “morning huddle”).  This briefing included three separate doctors, two nurses (the lead nurse and the one assigned to care for Dad), and an administrator keeping thorough notes on the dialogue.  In the meeting, the lead doctor would read through the patient’s files (out loud to the others), while they would either confirm or comment on those notations.  After each section, the team would then discuss what they had observed since their last briefing.

What was so special about this meeting was the way in which they interacted.   Better put, the way in which they collaborated.  The doctor sought out the nurses input.  He took their advice.  He even changed his orders based on the recommendations of the nurse and administrative staff.   When was the last time you saw a doctor not only listen to feedback from a nurse, but act on their recommendations?  Let’s just say I’ve seen plenty of situations to the contrary.

I was also impressed with the advocacy of the staff towards my father’s recovery.  Both of the shift nurses tending to him were responsive and attentive to his needs.  More than that, you could see in their actions, they were champions for his recovery.  In several of those “morning huddles” I referenced earlier, the nurse staff challenged the doctor to implement treatment more aggressively than he/she had prescribed.  All in the name of speeding his recovery or addressing his pain in a more effective way.  To compare, I’ve been in hospitals before where the staff are clearly more interested in the easy path of treatment than advocating for the patient.  I know it’s a generalization, but when you contrast it to the treatment at SAMMC the differences are stark.

All of this can serve as lessons for us in how effective teams operate and what true customer service might look like.  Even in situations that aren’t life or death, there is no reason for us to operate any differently.  Here are a few takeaways I will leave you with from this experience:

  • Respect – The most important member of a team is the team itself.  Whether you are the doctor or the nurse, or whether you are a VP or a member of a staff – it doesn’t matter.  Every member of the team is important, and every member’s perspective must be respected.  For example, how can a doctor possibly know how the patient is responding to treatment without consulting with the very people who spend the day with them?  So why do we operate so differently in business?  Why do we think somehow leadership is any more informed than the members of the team?
  • Collaboration – Teams that collaborate effectively are far more effective than those who don’t.  And by collaboration I don’t mean full agreement (or disagreement for that matter).  Teams must function with open, honest dialogue if they are to serve their purpose.  The “morning huddles” I witnessed at SAMMC are a great example of how members with different roles and expertise collaborated in an effective manner.
  • Perspective & Patience – Teams are more successful when they have both the proper perspective of those they serve and the patience with which to service.  Can you imagine being a nurse?  Patients with constant needs.  Family members with dozens of questions.  Visitors who think they know a better way to treat the patient.  Not so different than what we see in business?  Sponsors with constant requests.  Consumers with differing needs.  Confusion over what we do?  And plenty of opinions from others on how we should do it.  The recipe for overcoming this is simple – a measure of perspective and a pinch of patience.
  • Transparency – And finally, there is no substitute for transparency.  It’s really quite simple – communicate clearly and consistently.  Those SAMMC nurses had far more to do than to explain for the fifth time that day how my father was progressing.  But they did.  Why?  Because they knew it was important.  Even if it was to repeat the same message over and over.  And so why are we so lax in doing the same when our customers ask for information?  Let’s face it, we aren’t the NSA, and there really aren’t any secrets we are trying to keep from them.  So let’s be a little more transparent in why and what we do.

I challenge you to do the same in your job and with your teams.  It just might be what the doctor ordered!

NOTE:  On a personal note, I was heartened by the number of you who have responded with well wishes, thoughts, and prayers.   Since the accident just over two weeks ago, he has made remarkable progress.  They have since transferred him to an acute rehab center in Houston where he is progressing well.  He is eating well, talking (when he wants to), and has gained some movement with his left arm and leg.  This is now a journey, but the future is promising.   Thank you so much for all of your thoughts and prayers.  They have been amazing!

-Kip Wright

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