March 19, 2019

Leadership in Times of Change

I had an occasion recently to be part of a Leadership Conference for educators in health professions education who have a passion for and a focus on interprofessional education.  The event was put on by my colleagues from AAL and sponsored by the Interprofessional Education Collaborative.  This was one special group of people, and I wanted to share with you a couple of things they taught me.

The group included individuals and teams from a wide range of universities and health professions schools, and attendees included the senior-most leaders (deans and others) as well as faculty and staff.  These individuals and teams have been tasked with creating opportunities for health professions students to learn together in a team-based environment, rather than in discipline-specific silos.  The idea is that these students will need to work together as members of a team when they finish training, and so they should learn in such environments, as well.

As you might imagine, there are all kinds of institutional barriers to doing this kind of work, including equitable sharing of resources, professional scope of practice, individual and group-based challenges to “turf,” and general interpersonal conflict.  There are also a number of factors pushing schools to pursue this kind of training.  Research shows that patients receive better care and have better health outcomes when cared for by interprofessional teams; accreditation bodies are beginning to require interprofessional activities in order for schools to maintain their credentials; and students are beginning to push for the ability to work across boundaries.

This group taught me a few things about managing change during our time together.  The lessons that came across as most important were:

Listen, listen, listen!

One of the key skills for working effectively in teams is the ability to listen to the input of others without regard for power, authority, role or status.  Participants must be equal members of the same team, with a common goal at hand.  When people listen skillfully, communication improves and nuances that a member of the team picks up unexpectedly can be heard and explored.  Those nuances may be the key to solving a major problem or finding a way forward in a difficult situation.

Plan your communications strategy about change

If you are going to implement a change, such as moving an organization toward valuing teamwork, it is not possible to overcommunicate.  You must have a plan for helping people understand the “why,” the “what,” and the “how” of the change.  But more important than all of that, you must be able to communicate the answer to the question everyone will ask: “What will happen to me?”  This question is at the heart of most resistance to change, and if you are leading change, you have to supply the answer.

If you can’t articulate a strong reason for doing something, you should not do it!

Probably the most important thing this group taught me, and reinforced regularly during our time together, was “If you can’t explain a strong reason for making the change, DON’T DO IT.”  Step back to the drawing board and figure out the “why” of what you are doing in a way that you and everyone else can understand and support.  Then work on the “what” and the “how” of the change, plan a communication strategy, and be able to delineate the impact of the change on all involved.  If you can’t explain why, then STOP and REGROUP!

It was my privilege to work with this talented group of people, and I am most grateful for what they taught me.  I will continue to offer my support for the critically important work they are doing in health care.

How have you managed change as a leader?

Share your tips and thoughts in the comments section below.

Last updated March 19, 2019

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