A simple, action-based approach to interaction with your colleagues can help everyone succeed.
No C-suite — and no MD — required.
The approach to medical education at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin is unique, but that’s not what brought me to Austin in late 2016.
I left the Cleveland Clinic, where I served as chief information officer for two decades, to join the outstanding group of highly skilled professionals who are translating Dell Med’s innovative curriculum into a team-based, whole-person approach that will deliver quality care to every member of our community. We’re calling it UT Health Austin, and we’ll begin treating patients later this year.
It’s a complex enterprise, and it takes a complex “team of teams” to build it. But the priorities that drive the way I interact with these teams are simple.
Play It Like a Game
In 2015, Entertainment Software Association reported that 155 million Americans regularly play video games, with 42 percent playing for at least three hours a week. Given the wealth of interesting ways to spend our time, what makes video games so popular with so many people? The answer, agree many game designers (and team dynamics thought leaders), is a combination of story and experience.
While many games feature one or the other, the most successful games are those that combine a compelling story with a participatory experience that creates a continuous sense of progress and meaningful accomplishment. These same attributes can also make working as part of a team feel extremely satisfying (at least when everyone on the team shares these experiences).
By clearly identifying a goal, mapping out the sequential milestones leading to that goal, and celebrating progress as part of a cohesive and ongoing narrative, a leader can ensure that everyone on the team experiences both the metrics and the emotion that come with a job well done.
Action: Focus on a defined goal and communicate incremental progress.
From a very young age, children exhibit an almost uncanny ability to recognize faces: from various angles, in different lighting and in multiple physical locations. As we get older, we refine our skills, accounting for the effects of age, make-up, glasses, facial hair and changing hairstyles. Regardless of distractions, we stay connected to the deep pattern that is the geometry of a familiar face. Pattern recognition is so much a part of the way we experience the world that the human brain has been called a pattern-recognizing machine.
By taking the time to point out the contribution individual team members add to a project, a leader can help a team learn to identify its own collective pattern, its style, its unique signature made possible only because of its special balance of personalities and skills. When a team sees itself in the work it does, an enhanced sense of responsibility, ownership and pride is almost certain to follow.
Action: Invite your team members to see their work as an extension of themselves.
Keep it Simple (It’s Complicated!)
Have you ever been startled by a rabbit or bird that seemed to magically materialize out of thin air as you were casually admiring a colorful patch of flowers or a beautiful section of shrubs or greenery? Obviously, the animal was present the whole time. You only noticed it when it moved because of a combination of the ways in which your eyes and brain process visual information and the sudden change in your relationship to your physical surroundings.
As Einstein famously said, “Nothing happens until something moves.” Movement, in time and space, alters how your world is ordered, and distinguishing meaning in a changing environment is the essence of perspective. Maintaining your perspective in a way that allows you to discern and focus on those items that are truly important can be the toughest service a leader can do for a team.
While it is quite easy to appreciate the complexity of a project, particularly when many people are involved, it takes real effort to distinguish those core components and issues that are truly critical at any given moment. But remember, if you do the hard work of finding the simplest way to describe a situation, then layer new concepts atop a foundation that everyone understands, your team will share the experience of discovery together.
And when it comes to teams, together is what it’s all about.
Action: Edit. Always.