What to do about the ever-changing team?

It’s fairly common for teams of doctors to be in an almost constant state of flux. It won’t be long before the next cohort of students leave university and join the workforce. That coincides with the regular rotations for doctors in training. Summer also (hopefully) means time off for holidays. Then there are vacancies created by ongoing career progression movements. Any temporary gaps created are filled by locums, who may be with your team for days, weeks or months.

These changes create challenges for both the doctors taking up new posts and the teams they are joining. There’s a lot to learn, meaning it typically takes time for new personnel to get up to speed. So, efficiency drops. Then there’s the question, “How do I trust people I don’t know?” It’s a stressful time for all concerned. Experiencing this again and again can feel like you are going round in circles. It’s hard enough trying to maintain standards and performance. Even harder making improvements. In fact, such constant transition risks creating a downward spiral if you don’t manage it properly.

Increased stability may seem desirable. However, these regular transitions are the reality of our system. So, the question is, how to turn these interruptions to our advantage?

Preparing for team changes

First of all, it helps to acknowledge the fact that none of this is easy. Giving someone a well structured welcome to your team takes dedicated effort and time. You know it’s important, but there are many conflicting demands. So, it can be tempting and quicker to simply do a task yourself. That’s easier than taking time to provide the information or support for the new joiner. But that means you’re working harder and under even more pressure. In addition, they will take longer to get up to speed and to play an active role. Everyone benefits if you learn how to prioritise and to delegate well. These fundamental skills help you make decisions – what to do yourself and what to pass on? – and ensure you make your choice for the right reasons.

An opportunity mindset

Next, it’s useful to adopt a mindset where you see both leavers and joiners as opportunities. At the very least, it’s your opportunity to ensure you do it better than the last time someone joined or left!

With the person leaving, you can review their experience in the team through honest conversation. What do we do well? Where do we need to improve? What should we stop, start and continue? Listening to their opinions is likely to help you clarify where you need to focus your energies.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the person joining your team. Consider what they need to become an effective team member. We explore this on both our Essentials of Medical Leadership & Management and our Advanced Team Communication Skills courses. What information do they need? What resources? How will we ensure it’s all available to them? Who do they need to know? Pondering these questions often reveals changes or clarifications which would also benefit your current team members.

Then, once you have new new team member in place, there’s another useful headline question to explore.

What can we learn from the new team member?

A new team member should provide you with a fresh perspective. This can be the case whatever their level of level of experience. So, you can take advantage of this. What are they noticing about working in your team? What have they observed in terms of patient care? How easy is it to work with the systems and processes that are in place?

Empowering your new joiner with ownership of their welcome plan encourages a proactive attitude toward becoming an effective contributor. Discussions around their observations and needs can then take place both formally and informally. This means everyone getting involved in creating the latest version of the team and building for the future. Such an approach creates solid foundations for an ongoing improvement spiral – spiral where joining your team becomes increasingly easy. And that accelerates the process for your future new colleagues becoming effective team members.

What steps are you taking to make it easier for doctors to join your team?

Stephen McGuire – Managing Director