Building Resilience in Your Practice Team

On 13 April, 2013 in Human Resources by Rosie Overfield

In my decade with CCG I've never met anyone who didn't want a more functional, positive and resilient team. Whilst protocols may take care of improved functions and efficiencies, what does it take to specifically build resilience in teams and increase overall positivity?

The word 'resilience' has its roots in Latin, meaning “to leap back”. It is “the positive psychological capacity to rebound, to ‘bounce back’ from adversity, uncertainty, conflict, failure, or even positive change, progress, or increased responsibility” (Luthans, 2002, p. 702).  It is often referred to as 'hardiness'; a way of developing good outcomes by adapting and learning from obstacles and challenges. Resilient people tend to accomplish this quicker, often with less time spent floundering in emotion.

In their 2005 book, 'Resilience at Work', authors and psychologists Maddi and Khoshaba outline the three key aspects of developing a resilient workplace. These were:

1. Control - how can we, as veterinary professionals, control our emotions and affect results rather than be at the effect of ourselves?

2. Commitment - how can be stay connected and involved with our team mates when times are tough? (rather than isolate ourselves and play the blame-game)

3. Challenge - as a team, how can we see adversity as an opportunity to learn and grow?

Control Strategies for the Veterinary Team

Give people a system for expressing their emotions and normalise stress in the workplace. When team members don't have an outlet, and use it appropriately, practices can become a breeding ground for anxiety and drama. Teach people to identify with, and name, the emotions a situation/client made them feel. People generally have a small emotional vocabulary. Are they really just 'angry', or is that a blanket term for 'disappointed', 'embarrassed', 'frustrated' and 'indecisive'? With the help of open-ended questions and actually addressing the issue, you can teach your team to express better emotional data and get to the real issue quickly. This is an excellent strategy to incorporate into your debriefing discussions. Help people link the emotion and the situation. It's an excellent learning process and teaches them to identify triggers and early warning signs before they explode.

Commitment and Challenge Strategies for the Veterinary Team

When times are stressful and emotions are high, it is not uncommon for team members to feel isolated.  After all, as mammals we are designed to self-preserve in the face of threat. We turn inwardly - both emotionally and behaviourally - to meet our own needs. This is often the OPPOSITE of what we want when times are tough. It's in those moments that it is important to regroup and reconnect as soon as possible.  Re-establishing team values and a common goal can be an important activity when times are tough. Take the lead and bring everyone together and acknowledge the issue that has occurred. Re-direct the focus of the team to the positive - hold a lunch, do something social offsite or simply share positive stories from the week. When clients complain or a patient dies, human beings are very good at letting that summarise their entire efforts that day. Remind people of the good stuff and where relevant, get the rest of team to contribute. I heard a beautiful example of this just last week in a practice I visited - "Tony, I know that client had a valid point about our service but don't forget we've had 100 very happy clients in our practice this week too". Don't leave your colleagues marooned on Self-Loathing Island. Come together and re-frame the challenging experience.

I am often reminded of Carlos Castenada's quote when it comes to resilience:

“We either make ourselves miserable or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.”

Practice life is busy and we are all caring people trying to do the best we can. Developing a mindful, resilience team means we can swiftly return to this ethos, rather than fragment and detach when times are tough.




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