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“I’ve got your back:” Mutual support reduces errors and improves culture
Part 3 of the Working as a Health Care Team series

NFL coaches agree that on a football team, the two most important players are the quarterback and the left tackle. The quarterback is obvious – they are the leaders of the offensive. But the left tackle’s job is equally, if not more, important. The left tackle’s job is to protect the quarterback from what he can’t see coming – to protect his blind side.(1)

The health care delivery team, consisting of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and others is analogous to a sports team – working together to achieve a common goal. This analogy holds true especially when referring to the team dynamic: in order to be a successful team, individual members must utilize their strengths and skills to provide additional support to their team members.

Working as a team by supporting and taking initiative to help colleagues is especially important in health care, as doing so can evade some of the most substantial problems that occur in health care delivery. Members of a health care team generally work long hours under stressful circumstances. It is understandable how fatigue may negatively affect an individual’s reaction time, as well as critical thinking and problem solving skills. During these times, it can be reassuring that your coworkers “have your back.”(2)

Picture obtained from AHRQ’s TeamSTEPPS program.

In order for mutual support to be effective, it must be seen as a cultural norm. Otherwise, individuals may conclude that people do not trust the quality of their work and are watching over their shoulder to see if they make a mistake. Colleagues need to feel that it is safe to speak up or intervene to prevent a coworker from making an error or use poor judgment. And colleagues receiving this information need to accept it knowing that it is an expectation that the team keeps an eye out for one another. Both the ability to take constructive criticism as well as the courage to offer feedback to colleagues are signs of respect and dedication to the success of the entire healthcare team.

References

1. The Blind Side. Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2010.

2. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). TeamSTEPPS: Situation Monitoring. Available at: http://www.ahrq.gov/professionals/education/curriculum-tools/teamstepps/instructor/fundamentals/module4/slsitmonitor.html

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