Excellence in Turbulent Times: A Guide to Leading Care Teams in Crisis

Medical professional leading care teams with a tablet

It goes without saying, but in such a short period of time, the COVID-19 pandemic has turned the work environment, along with several other facets of life, on its head. Furthermore, the ongoing flow of developments surrounding the virus means crisis response plans are bound to change as new information (or lack thereof) develops. As healthcare leaders, we need to make sure we’re setting the right example for our care teams, being candid and present, and coming together to offer excellence in turbulent times. 

Before doing anything else, leaders must take a step back and acknowledge the reality of a crisis like COVID-19. As PRC Excellence Accelerator®’s Katie Owens puts it in a recent video, “in just a short period of time, things that we may have perceived as ‘safe’ or normal’ have shifted—a big tectonic shift.” This shift will undoubtedly lead to shock and uncertainty among employees, but that’s where leadership needs to step in.  

To better lead uncertain teams, Owens suggests a triple-pronged approach to establishing executive confidence and trust that builds meaningful relationships with your team: 

  1. Communication  
  2. Rounding 
  3. Visibility  

Communication 

When communicating with employees, Owens stresses the importance of perspective and understanding the differences in perception between yourself and your care team. These perceptions may be formed by a combination of direct experiences, word of mouth and media communications, and the perceptions of fellow employees.  

Moreover, in the absence of concrete information, employees are more inclined to draw their own conclusions and interpretations. These differing perceptions make it important for leaders not to make assumptions when speaking with employees, instead entering conversation with the mentality of promoting an open forum for everybody to share their input and concerns. 

Rounding 

An effective way to apply communication principles is with the practice of senior leader rounding. For effective rounding, all executives are invited to rotate across all departments, offering everyone the opportunity to gain staff perspective throughout an entire hospital.  

“There’s solidarity in teamwork and it shows a unified approach across all departments,” Owens said. Speaking to unity, leaders should approach rounding with the same messages and questions to staff, operating with the objectives of collectively understanding and listening to employees, displaying action from executives, and cultivating trust among their teams. 

Visibility 

Nonetheless, rounding is just one of the ways executives can display visibility in their hospital. Like rounding, Owens advises all senior leaders to be present and open during times of crisis, from start time huddles and peak times to off shifts and weekends. This visibility is coupled with communication principles, encouraging leaders to gain perspective by listening and asking questions. During these communications, leaders should also express gratitude to their employees for being open and sharing their thoughts. In addition, this visibility shouldn’t be limited to times that are “easy” for leaders to be there. Showing vulnerability and willingness to be present during the negatives (without blame or leaving out the positives) optimizes visibility, giving leaders a chance to exemplify their commitment to their teams. 

Putting everything together establishes a framework of feedback for leaders to show they’re listening to their staff, what they’re doing in response to feedback, and where the hospital needs to go from there. This process begins with gaining perspective and establishing internal communication to further rounding and visibility. The process continues with routine follow ups and practicing for difficult questions, finally bookending with reflection on what leaders have learned, and how to adapt based on their discoveries.  

Regarding the uncertainty of COVID-19, Owens acknowledged that “there is no crystal ball right now—it is changing multiple times each day.” However, Owens also concluded, “in our crystal ball … these three techniques will support your culture, accelerate your path to excellence, and help you emerge grittier, more resilient, and more trusting now and in the future.” 

For more information on Owens’s advice for leaders, check out her video, 3 Steps to Project Senior Team Confidence and Build Trust in a Crisis, and for additional healthcare strategies, best practices, and expert consulting personalized to your hospital, contact PRC Excellence Accelerator® at info@prccustomresearch.com.