Take the pulse of your practice team culture

June 19, 2017

Your College’s Practice Management Committee’s goal is to help you manage your practice. When we find tools that we deem useful, we want to pass them on. The team culture of your practice is a powerful thing, and can impact everything from employee satisfaction to productivity to patient health outcomes. Your success depends on how everyone in your practice interacts with one another and with patients – in short, on your team culture. Kevin McGrath, MD, FACAAI, vice-chair of the ACAAI Practice Management Committee, explained, "A small practice can be like a family unit. The physicians and office manager need to guide, encourage, and lead by example much the same way good parents guide the rest of the family."

Changing your culture isn’t easy and takes time, but the results can be transformative. AMA’s free Steps Forward Module Creating Strong Team Culture shows how to create teams that learn continuously, engage patients, communicate well and listen to one another.

AMA’s module identifies ten steps for cultivating strong relationships in your practice:

1. Diagnose the current state of your team culture.

Start by evaluating your existing culture with an anonymous survey of physicians and employees. AMA suggests either PeaceHealth's TEAM Development Measure Survey or the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality's (AHRQ's) Medical Office Survey on Patient Safety. Share results with the practice and use them to guide improvement, not as vehicles for punishment or blame.

2. Discuss the results and brainstorm possible improvements.

Decide as a group which areas to work on, and brainstorm ideas on how to improve. Check out the module for great suggestions on how to brainstorm.

3. Create a staff compact as a group.

This is a written document that outlines how staff should treat one another, and it works best when employees have helped create it. The Steps Forward module includes a downloadable sample staff compact as a guide.

4. Create opportunities for team communication throughout the day and meet regularly.

Regular face-to-face communication is essential for a strong team culture. Weekly or bi-weekly staff meetings, group huddles, team work stations and end-of-day debriefs all help strengthen working relationships and improve productivity. One tip: start each meeting with something positive, such as a story of great patient care, a “shout-out” to a team member who has done something great, or a practice “win” you can all celebrate.

5. Strengthen the team by focusing on individual development.

Create opportunities for your team to learn and take on new responsibilities. Investing in your staff will help them thrive - and it sends an important message about your practice values.

6. Get to know your team members.

Social activities such as team lunches, birthday and work anniversary celebrations, potlucks and holiday celebrations can all help improve team spirit.

7. Teach leaders to be mentors, not managers.

The best leaders focus on teaching and coaching rather than on “managing” employees in a traditional sense. They give positive, actionable feedback whenever possible. The module includes suggestions for providing feedback.

8. Create an environment that supports continual learning.

Working to continually learn and improve your practice will help your team grow together.

9. Engage patients.

Patient feedback will help you build a stronger practice. Ask patients to weigh in on a new process, policy or pilot program you’re testing via a short three-question survey. Another option: create a patient/family advisory council to get regular patient input.

An investment in a strong team culture will pay off in dividends for your practice. Get started by viewing the AMA’s Steps Forward Module Creating Strong Team Culture – or forward this article to your practice manager.