How to Turn On the Power of Cross-Functional Healthcare Teams

The healthcare field is known for attracting some of the most intelligent and committed individuals in in our society. But individual brilliance and personal passion are not enough to meet the challenges of healthcare complexity and cost, nor the rising expectations for patient care. It takes a team. But what does it take to really make a team work? The exact answer will be different for each organization, but several fundamental principles apply.

Own the outcomes

The first step is to recognize and buy-in to the twin promises of cross-functional teams: enhanced organizational operation, and improved patient outcomes. A University of Chicago report highlights key advantages, including “more creative solutions, better decision-making, increased organizational effectiveness” and even lower turnover rates. And a study from multiple institutions concludes that “Effective collaboration enables the hospital to deliver services that are both high in quality and cost-effective.” In short, cross-functionality is better for you and your patients.

Embrace a consistent vision and mission

Making sure your entire organization understands those two, big-picture benefits of collaboration is key to bridging the gaps – and unifying the goals – between critical functions, including clinical care, administration and IT. One study observed that “The irony of this is that all three stakeholder groups [within a given organization] are guided by the same organizational mission, vision and goals but somehow each develops its own goals, and these goals are often inconsistent with one another.” Left in their own silos, clinical professionals may focus on patient care above all; administrators may see decisions primarily through the lens of cost control; and the IT team is prone to fixating on technical functionality. But working together, leaders and practitioners from each area can more easily appreciate, and access, the benefits of mutually executing on the overall mission while also achieving their individual goals.

Lead with actions

Vision and mission, of course, comprise a classic example of “easier said than done.” Any healthcare leadership team can issue a vision and mission statement – an effective leadership team will demonstrate it in their daily actions and involvement. This includes moving from a transactional model of leadership (you meet our goals; you get a reward, typically monetary or career-related) to a transformational model (shared goals and rewards, related as much to higher-order purpose as to personal profit). Transactional leaders plan, monitor and react; transformational leaders inspire, empower, model, stay involved and relish their role as encouragers.

Move from cooperation to collaboration

There is a common misconception that being cross-functional simply means cooperating across roles and departments – and that is a starting point. To realize their full potential, however, cross-functional teams need to be willing to drop some of the traditional, turf-oriented prerogatives and learn to function as mutually invested collaborators.

Take the example of Electronic Health Records (EHR) implementation, as mandated by legislation. A leading management consultant reports that while 95% of healthcare organizations have implemented the technology required, the majority of those systems has yet to be optimized for effective use across an organization – often because EHR is regarded as an IT issue, rather than an organize-wide responsibility.

This has obvious implications for patient care when, for instance, clinical practitioners aren’t involved thoroughly early on in terms of what and how IT systems need to deliver at the point of care. But it also has critical organizational impacts – particularly as regards the ability to adequately meet and report on Meaningful Use requirements and other regulatory standards.
Having direct and mutually responsible contact between experts and end-users across functions helps ensure that you’ll get past a typical “boiler plate” installation of technology to achieve a custom-fit application of the capabilities and benefits that the technology must provide.

Healthcare at a crossroads

There is no choice but to find new ways to grapple with the ever-expanding costs and complexities of healthcare – and cross-functional operations are one promising new road to take. Which direction will your organization go?

National Library of Medicine/NIH: Cross-functional team processes and patient improvement
Roberts Wesleyan: Creating a cross-functional team beyond silos
Health Leaders Media: Cross-functional teams key to EMR/EHR success
University of Chicago: Cross functional team process and patient outcomes
Research study, multiple authors / institutions: Multidisciplinary teamwork in healthcare
CDC: Meaningful Use
KPMG: Beyond Implementation
IHACSMM: A Primer on Cross-Functional Teams