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Teamwork: Getting to the Heart of the Matter (Part 1)

For many business professionals, the stress of having to work and succeed as part of a team can feel like a challenge that taxes them beyond their comfort level. For Dr. Steven Fishberger, Pediatric Cardiologist with a specialty in electrophysiology; it often is no less than life or death.  As business people, our big decisions are often around which computer system to purchase, what customer segment to target, what features to include in a product, which vendor to use as a supplier, etc.  As business professionals; we will rely on our own expertise, consult with managers from other departments for their perspectives, seek insights from current customers and/or prior customers who no longer purchase products from our company, and on and on.  However; none of these decisions or outcomes are as dramatic as those surrounding the efforts of the team of nurses and other medical professionals led by Dr. Fishberger.  For him, the high functioning of the team is truly life-altering.

Dr. Steven Fishberger shares views on teamwork.

The Leader’s Role

When asked what he sees his role as being given that he is the leader of the team, he was quick to point out he is very different than many other surgeons in that regard who yell, are critical to the point of intimidating their colleagues, or act very authoritarian.  Rather, he shares that he sees his primary role in leading the team to be, “One of creating and reinforcing a culture that supports excellence.”  When pressed to describe what that includes or looks like, he enumerated, “People need to feel comfortable in their role, know that their contribution is necessary and valued, be confident that they can offer suggestions or ask questions appropriately.”  Dr. Fishberger further elaborated, “Trying to lead through high-pressure tactics is a path to failure.  Few people will respond well to that.  However; by holding people accountable for excellence and encouraging them to achieve and grow; my team has always responded positively.”  According to Dr. Fishberger, “In some ways, the role of the Leader is akin to being a parent. You have to nurture and develop the team to perform the way you would want them to when you are not around.”  Points that were returned to throughout the discussion included:

  1. Everyone is accountable.  Not just for their tasks within the patient interaction or surgery, but for the outcome.  We have to be responsible for ourselves, to each other, but even more importantly, to the patient and the patient’s family
  2. Everyone is REALLY important.  There are no small roles or inconsequential members.  If any one individual member does not perform as needed or expected, it impacts the entire team
  3. Admit mistakes and learn from it.  Fear of reprisal stunts further development and progress. After every surgery, an informal review or debrief is held and a discussion ensues about what could be improved, what went well, and what did not.

Team Member Selection

While the matrix structure of hospital specialties do not always allow for selection of team members in all situations, the things that Dr. Fishberger seeks for the people he is able to choose include an emphasis on those that buy into his view that, “Everyone has a role and that they are on the team because they enhance it.  I am not the expert or the best at every facet, but rather people are selected because they can offer something better or different than I can.  Otherwise, the team is filled with redundancy and is only as good as the person selecting the team. We want to expand our capabilities, not limit them.”  The characteristics that make someone a good team member in the Operating Room have a lot of implications for business people as well.  Dr. Fishberger especially values:

  1. Energetic people.  The work can involve long hours, difficult emotions, and conflict.  Someone with energy to accommodate the needs of the role is essential
  2. Responsibility.  Taking ownership of their role and being willing to be held accountable for performance is a key factor in success
  3. Confidence.  Rather than looking for people that always agree with him or defer to him, Dr. Fishberger appreciates people who are confident enough to share opinions, challenge if there are better options to consider, and are willing to not just accept doing things the way they have always been done
  4. Invested.  Team members have to value the outcomes and their contributions to the outcome.  There has to be a passion for the work and a strong belief in what we are doing.
  5. Sharing.  Team members that will share their expertise with other team members, and are willing to teach others so the entire team improves are far more appreciated.  Those that hoard their knowledge or view their experience as a base of power to be used against others are not pursued with the same vigor and quickly find themselves off of the team.

Dr. Fishberger also shared that while the team members do not have to be friends and socialize together, it does help that they can have conversations that are not work-based all the time.  Given the occasional downtime and high stress of their work, the ability to talk about movies, restaurants, sports, or family allows them to get to know each other better and it aids in how they work together.



David Zahn