How Do You Make the Most Out of Teamwork in Nursing?

By Debra Kirkley on Wed, Nov 20, 2013

teamwork in nursingWhen you’re overwhelmed by tasks, does anyone notice? Can you approach anyone for help? If the answer is no, maybe teamwork in your nursing unit can be improved. And this is commonly due to two reasons—unclear expectations and a focus on weakness. Here’s how you can improve it:

Set Clear Expectations

Are expectations for team support clear on your unit? Do you have a code of conduct that explicitly states how you’ll care for one another?

Many nurses have created change by inviting open discussion at a staff meeting. Talk with your manager about inviting your team to generate a code of conduct. Start small with just a few expectations. State each one clearly, define what it means and discuss consequences for violating the code.

Be creative with your consequences because none of us is perfect. I know one team that requires a nurse to bring donuts on the day after a violation.

Look for Strengths

We don’t have to like the people we work with. They’re not always people we’d choose as friends. But to create teamwork in your nursing unit, we do have to respect the work they do.

A nurse once came to me complaining about a colleague who was very quiet and kept to herself. “Lisa’s not a team player,” she said. So I asked her to tell me about Lisa’s strengths. Was she a good organizer? Did she finish her shift on time? Was she a whiz at computerized charting?

When I was a staff nurse, Elise was a nurse on my unit who could start an IV on anyone. I looked for her when I couldn’t get a line in. As a nurse manager, I tapped into Gloria, a nurse on my unit who loved crossword puzzles. She loved to create the monthly nursing schedule because it was a giant, fun puzzle to her. Most of us feel good when people notice our special talents.

How can you tap into a colleague’s strengths when you need help? On a day when you’re drowning in tasks, consider saying, “I’ve noticed you’re a really good planner, can you help me reorganize my priorities so everything gets done today?”

As you can see, it isn’t about luck. It’s about setting clear expectations for colleagueship and tapping into the strengths of the people you work with.  And it’s easy to find faults in others. It takes a real nurse leader to look for the strengths.

Of course, if you can already do all these before, then your unit is doing something right! Think about what it is you’re doing and discuss it at staff meetings to reinforce good behaviors that encourage teamwork in nursing.

About the Author: Debra Kirkley, PhD, RN, is a well known speaker on nursing leadership and is author of more than 25 publications, including articles in Nursing, Nursing Economics, and JONA. Debra’s hospital roles have included staff nurse, clinical nurse specialist, unit educator, and nurse manager/executive.

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7 COMMENTS

Anonymous 3 years ago
I had hoped for better suggestions. For the past four years I have worked as both a travel nurse, and per diem nurse. Finding teamwork is always a challenge. For the most part, I work well independently, however there are those shifts where I have a patient or patients that require more of my attention. In those cases, I either find the nurse working in rooms near mine, or call the charge nurse for help. On any shift, I try to put forth a positive attitude, offer help to other nurses when I have spare time, and refrain from complaining. This is the best method I have found to promote "teamwork". To Anon: Not all per diem nurses pass the buck, and let me say that I have worked with plenty of staff nurses that pass the buck as well. This per diem nurse tries to do extra things for patients as much as possible, but alot of times the workload just doesn't allow for anything but what is required.

Anonymous 3 years ago
If you can get staff to discuss situations, it really helps. This is not always possible. Especially when people feel threatened, they are less likely to be open to free conversation. Nurses often feel threatened by more experienced clinicians.

Anonymous 3 years ago
Love this message! Without a teamwork approach, my entire unit would be dead in the water and sicker than the patients we serve. Too many nurses are stuck in places where problems are addressed with the liberal application of fear and distrust rather than respect and honest dialogue. Amazing to think that anyone can nurse anyone to wellness with that burden on their backs!

Anonymous 3 years ago
I don't really like the people I work with. They play pass the buck all the time. The per diem nurses come in, give meds and leave. They rarely do anything extra. They leave the place a mess. It's maddening and sickening. Most times I just want to scream. It's a good thing I love the patients and my work schedule. I'm certainly not in it for the money

Anonymous 3 years ago
I can relate to Mary. In fact, just the other day I was having one of these days...overwhelming doesn't even begin to describe it. I am a travel nurse who floats every shift and hadn't worked on this floor for 2 months. I asked the resource nurse to hang an antibiotic for me and her response was "well I can, but I don't know why I should" NOT KIDDING! At one point I teared up...after that I had the charge nurse and resource nurse checking my charting, questioning my work and looking over my shoulder the rest of the day. I too have learned that if you ask for help, a lot of the time your fellow nurses tend not to trust your abilities and think your incompetent...being a traveler, nobody even bothers to learn my name let alone take suggestions on how to work as a team...fortunately I only have 12 shifts left...

Anonymous 3 years ago
I work at Grand Rapids Allergy and work with a great bunch of nurses who actually ask if you need help before you ask for help.
Nurses are notorious for not helping each other. Why is that? RNS at Grand Rapids Allergy are and exceptional bunch of professionals.

Anonymous 3 years ago
The suggestions are good. But who is going to point out if a colleague violated one of the 'codes of conduct', in fear of retribution...or without looking like a whiney jerk? I have tried some of these suggestions, and my experience has been that it comes back to haunt you..usually with a managerial comment in your annual review, such as 'some of your co-workers have noted you seem to have a time managment problem since you requested assistance'. I learned quickly not to appear vulnerable or in 'need' of help, even though my assignment was horrific for the day. Unfortunately, another reason I left the bedside nursing aspect of nursing.