The ‘Team of Teams’ Approach

U.S. Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal’s ‘Team of Teams,’ a New York Times bestseller, famously suggested that it’s possible to ‘combine the adaptability, agility and cohesion of a small team with the power and resources of a giant organization.’

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For the world of academic medicine, it may be just what the doctor ordered.

At Dell Medical School, creating an effective team of teams culture is not just about learning to play nicely. It’s about establishing a model for collaborative leadership, actively seeking out partners across organizational boundaries and tearing down the walls that prevent those dynamic partnerships from happening.

That means each person has the agency to bring passion and expertise to teams outside the traditional reporting structure, and new initiatives are being created every day to tackle specific health issues across Austin and Travis County.

“A culture that is committed to the behaviors of effective communication is essential to moving toward our goals of transformational leadership and leadership development in health care,” says Eddie Erlandson, a surgeon-turned-executive-leadership-coach who’s worked with Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Disney, in addition to helping plan leadership curricula at Dell Med. “A team of teams concept can be brought to life in the day-to-day behaviors of each individual team and the teams within the organization that are committed to a mutual goal: collaborative problem-solving and continuous learning without issues around control and identities.”

The Street Team

Most people experiencing homelessness receive care through the ER (or not at all), so when the interdisciplinary team meets patients where they are to provide holistic care, health outcomes improve.

The Uniquely Equipped Team:

Drug counselors and peer navigators join traditional primary and mental health care providers from Dell Med, CommUnityCare Health Centers and Integral Care in a “street medicine” team supporting the 7,000-plus individuals experiencing homelessness in Travis County.

“Homeless Austinites living with multiple complex medical problems are among the most vulnerable and difficult-to-reach members of our community, says project director Tim Mercer, assistant professor in the departments of Population Health and Internal Medicine. “We believe this approach is a key way to address the broader needs of this population.”

The ‘B-Team’ You Want To Be On

The majority of people in the U.S. with opioid use disorder will stay in the hospital at some point in the course of their disease. Buprenorphine saves lives of those living with addiction and decreases hospital readmission rates, and when partners across the hospital collaborate to identify individuals needing help, more lives can be saved.

The Uniquely Equipped Team:

Chaplains and pharmacists who might otherwise never cross paths in the hospital join nurses, social workers, physician assistants, physicians and trainees to form a cross-functional “B-team” of providers at Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas. The team works to screen patients for opioid use disorder, initiate buprenorphine therapy, provide outpatient referrals and work to reduce stigma of opioid addiction throughout the institution.

“A great part of our work has been around stigma reduction, even from those who have been working in health care for many years,” says team lead Richard Bottner, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine. “Opioid use disorder should be treated just like any other chronic lapsing-remitting medical condition, and there is more work to be done to prove to others that this model works.”

The Team Turning Chaos Into ‘CaLM’

Those undergoing cancer treatment have their lives upended, and most patients need more than just an oncologist: Seeking adequate care requires hours of coordinating with specialists, all while still contending with everyday stressors. When patients and families are surrounded by a customized team to guide them through every aspect of the cancer journey, quality of life greatly increases.

The Uniquely Equipped Team:

Dietitians, fertility experts, genetic counselors, navigators and social workers share appointments and space with oncologists, specialists and nurses to provide holistic care for patients at the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes. This is the basis for the CaLM (Cancer Life reiMagined) model, which aims to flip the way cancer patients, survivors and their families experience life during treatment and while living with cancer.

“The CaLM model is a continuation of the concept of truly patient-centered care,” says S. Gail Eckhardt, director of the LIVESTRONG Cancer Institutes. “With advances in cancer research transforming cancer into a chronic disease, the health care system as a whole is calling for a greater focus on patients and coordination of care; we are deploying a model of cancer care delivery to do that.”