Mindful Team Building Is Like Showering — You Have to Keep Doing It!

Anne Bruce

Anne Bruce

Author and Leadership Consultant

Published December 05, 2014

Welcome to Mindfulness in Medicine, a monthly column by best-selling author Anne Bruce designed to cultivate leadership and collaborative relationships among hospital leaders, nurses, providers and ancillary staff. Mindfulness is a powerful leadership tool that enhances emotional intelligence in medicine. It is a tool that, when practiced, can help us develop and implement relational coaching skills and illuminate various ways to improve hospital operations and cross-departmental performance. Mindfulness also improves our capacity for decision-making and participatory medicine, all while enhancing our own health and well-being. Your comments and insights on these postings are greatly valued.

Operating a top-notch medical service requires great teams and mindful leadership. One smart and mindful decision-making practice to start with is to always do your best to put the right people in the right positions. Seems simple, but it can be a challenge.

Healthcare systems today are often quite hectic and require a lot of practitioner stamina, intellect and talent. So in haste to fill an opening, sometimes we can actually hire the best of the worst instead of the best of the best. When we're under constant pressure to get things done quickly and efficiently, we often forget to stop, breathe, and simply ask for feedback from the very teams working seamlessly together and doing a great job right under our noses.

Value and Ask For Your Team’s Input

If you really want to improve processes, even simple ones, don’t always rely on your colleagues or administration for answers. Instead, ask the people who are in the healthcare trenches actually “doing the job” you want done. How would they (specifically) go about improving things to better serve patients and internal customers?

Asking is the first step. However, clinical leaders, managers and executives sometimes lose their edge when they pose questions to the wrong people. You may automatically go to your HR department or administrator, when in fact people on the front lines have better insights.

Let’s say your inpatient units are getting low HCAHPS scores in the cleanliness domain. Ask the environmental services staff for ways to keep patient areas looking their best. Do they need more tools to be effective? How could others on the unit pitch in to support their efforts?

Another example: If you want to improve telephone skills among the front office staff, then ask the team members with the best telephone skills to share their secrets. Or, ask how they might rewrite the telephone script that’s used to greet patients. If you have a staff member who is particularly good at handling difficult patients, get that person to talk to the entire team about how she or he diffuses angry callers.

People are usually flattered and eager to share ways they do things well. As long as there is pride in place, team members want to help their teammates and are usually willing to take the time to come up with better systems and approaches for everyone. Expensive medical consultants are not a requirement.

3 Tips For Making Hiring Decisions

When hiring for your healthcare organization, remember that you're not just building a practice, you're building a team. You never want to hire someone for a position who just “seems" or "appears" qualified. You want to place someone in the position who is actually capable of not only doing the job well, but:

  • Implementing your long-term plan for patient care and organizational success.
  • Improving the processes that already exist (because they are continually asking coworkers, “What’s up?”)
  • Setting reasonable timeframes and measurable success criteria. Without a timetable, goals for the team become wishful thinking at best.

1. A Mindful Question to Ask: “What is the people part of this equation?”

Even the best decision-makers and strategic thinkers in healthcare won’t help your cause if you don’t take into account the "people part" of each equation you encounter. And look what can happen if you miscalculate:

Situation: The wrong administrator or medical director is hired for the job.
The Results: Ongoing problems, miscommunication, arguing among team members, employees leave, dissatisfaction among departments and lost potential to get the job done right the first time, not to mention lost time and money. Bottom line: No one is as happy or productive as they could be.

Situation: You've got the right people for the right job … but they're in the wrong place.
The Results: If you try to implement a new idea or plan of action in the wrong department or location, the result will be ongoing frustration and lack of employee satisfaction.

Situation: Having the wrong plan, lack of a plan, or not a solid enough plan.
The Results: In medicine, as elsewhere, good intentions mean squat without a mindful plan of action! This situation often results in grief, and instead of practice growth, it can produce virtually zero action steps to back up all the best intentions. Now where does that leave you?

2. A Quick and Easy Two-Part Approach to Hiring

  • Hire for attitude and train for skill. Attitude is everything, so interview for that first. Stay out of the “woulds” and don’t start any interview question with “What would you do if…?” This only leads to imaginary answers. A better way to phrase an interview question is: “Tell me about a time when…?”
  • Be mindful of where you place your new hires. Is the person in the right location to impact the change you seek? Also, bear in mind that every healthcare environment is individual and has its own culture. Often a skilled person will be more effective in some environments within your system than others.

3. Be Mindful: Ask WHY and WHAT Before You Ask HOW

When planning how to meet an objective or overcome a problem on the job, don’t jump the gun! Don’t try to immediately find an answer. Get to the bottom of things and ask “why,” and “what” questions first, then move on to “how.” By jumping too quickly into the problem-solving mode, you can miss all of the critical issues and then where does that leave you?

Asking why and what questions automatically makes you think about all the reasons for the decisions that have been making in the first place. This process opens a leader's mind to possibilities and opportunities, and that’s what the practice of medicine and its teams thrive on.

Anne Bruce has provided training and performance coaching for Vituity. She also serves as MBSI's Employee Development Coach and Leadership Facilitator. Anne is a bestselling author with more than 20 books published by McGraw-Hill Publishing, New York. She considers her award-winning life-coaching book, Discover True North: A 4-Week Approach to Ignite Passion and Activate Potential (McGraw-Hill Publishing) to be one of her most "mindful" books to date. She also leads a popular Discover True North Expedition group on LinkedIn. Anne can be reached at 214-507-8242 or by writing to her at


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