4 Reasons Your Healthcare Team Doesn’t Get Along

team conflictToo often healthcare managers spend their time dealing with conflict in the workplace. Many leaders I work with all tell the same story: their teams are impacted, to one degree or another, by infighting, negative attitudes, cliques, back-biting, gossip, and angst. The highly charged environment that is healthcare means these dynamics come with the territory, but often there are clearer root causes on teams where these issues are pervasive. Here are 4 reasons your healthcare team isn’t getting along:

You tolerate disrespect.  If managers fail to hold team members accountable for inappropriate, disrespectful or negative comments, the team will suffer. Establish expectations for how team members will communicate and appropriately address those that don’t meet expectations.  Insist that members of your team treat each other with dignity and respect. Make it clear in words and actions that anything less won’t be tolerated.

Your team is overworked.  At least 75% of the managers I work with tell me their team is understaffed. Perhaps there’s a vacancy (or several). Perhaps the practice has grown but funding for expanding the team is limited or nonexistent. In any case when team members are pushed to their limit on a daily basis they, as a TV show famously said, “stop being polite, and start getting real.”  Stress, fatigue, and pressure remove our filters. Negative environments narrow people’s emotions to survival mode (fight or flight). Be sure you’re not overestimating what people can reasonably accomplish in their position. If your team needs help do whatever it takes to get it for them.

There’s a toxic personality.  It’s very common that a manager will call me up and say “I’m having an issue and want to see if you can come in and do some training.” When they describe the team conflict issues noted above I ultimately ask this question: “Is there one person on your team that, if they were to leave, these problems would largely go away, too?”  At least half the time the answer is “Yes.” In such cases there isn’t a training issue with the team, there’s a performance management issue. The bad behavior demonstrated by the employee has not been addressed. Left unabated, it can be cancerous to a team. If a toxic personality is present engage in focused, specific, behavioral conversations about what that person needs to do differently. If no change occurs, take appropriate steps (include Human Resources) to remove that person.

They don’t know each other.  In most work environments employees spend a lot of time together. If they are never given the chance to interact with each other beyond the duties and tasks of their jobs they rarely get a glimpse of each other’s humanity. Find ways to create non-work interaction at work. This is why many teams celebrate birthdays, share photos, or plan staff retreats. When colleagues get to interact as people it builds stronger team relationships.

These are not the only reasons a team may regularly experience conflict, but I’ve found they are fairly common. The most successful managers recognize the need to own the culture of their teams. They concern themselves with the quality of interactions that take place between team members. Take action to address the root causes outlined here and watch your team improve and evolve.

Joe Mull, M.Ed. is President of Ally Training & Development, which provides leadership development, management training, and staff development programs to healthcare providers. He is the author of Cure for the Common Leader: What Physicians & Managers Must Do to Engage & Inspire Healthcare Teams which is available on Amazon.com. For more info on Joe visit http://cureforthecommonleader.com


3 thoughts on “4 Reasons Your Healthcare Team Doesn’t Get Along

  1. On these 4 root causes, I would also add that both the disrespect and toxic personality are rooted within a toxic organization that overworks and disempowers employees by work overload, lack of job control, lack of tools to do the job, loss of teamwork and inability to hire replacements because of their practices. A good middle manager can only do so much in that kind of organizational climate.

    • Great point, Peggy. I’ve seen a number of gifted managers overcome those root causes in the kinds of environments you describe, but they are few and far between. And for many who try it’s like rolling boulders uphill- tons of effort for miniscule progress. Thanks for the insight! ~Joe

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