Review & Comment
As I visit practices and talk with veterinarians, practice managers, and team leaders, I hear many colleagues speak of our shared commitment to practicing the best possible medicine and to working hard to help each other in that process. If we aren’t working well together as a health care team, how can we hope to achieve unparalleled positive clinical results?
How are you working as a team? When I ask that question, I often hear, “Great!” I generally respond with a positive comment and then ask: “How do you know?” It seems that many folks just feel that they “know” how they are doing. Likewise, many know the positive way they feel about others and assume they are seen in the same light. As scientists however, we can appreciate that the bigger question must be: “How do we know that we really know what we think we know?” How can we be sure?
The follow-up question is even tougher: How are you doing as a team member? Whether you are the boss, the animal care specialist, ICU nurse, receptionist, associate doctor, or veterinary technician, you have influence—positive or negative—on those around you. Is working with you uplifting and encouraging, or depressing, stifling, or deflating? What would others say? Do you know?
I asked myself these questions about my relationship with my work group last year and ultimately chose to engage in a 360° assessment, giving my colleagues both my permission and a welcoming opportunity to tell me how I was doing as a teammate and partner. More important, it would allow them to help me understand how I could do better as their teammate, colleague, advocate, and supervisor.
Make no mistake, this step took self-reflection, faith, some bravery, and a lot of planning. It’s not easy for high-achieving situational leaders to believe that, despite being accomplished professionals, they might be part of a problem that others struggle with all day long!
At some level, I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what I wasn’t doing well…but then again, if I were frustrating or impeding my teammates, I could possibly lose them.
As a leader, particularly as a situational leader such as a boss or supervisor, you must know how effectively you are working with and caring for your team. In my case, all of those with whom I work are direct reports. It was therefore critical that I create a safe and confidential way for them to provide feedback in a way they could remain anonymous. I had to be brave enough to hear where I could do better and be strong enough to change what I could.
So…I met with my team and explained that I wanted them to answer two questions. First, “What do I do well that helps you individually and us collectively to be more effective in meeting our unit’s mission?” I needed to know what my colleagues think I did well. Clearly I didn’t want to lose that attribute, whatever it turned out to be.
The second question was: “What one thing, if successfully addressed, would allow me to be an incredibly effective and enjoyable partner at work?” I didn’t know what their answers would be so I had no preconceived notion as to whether I could even hope to change anything problematic in my work life effort.
To conduct this assessment, it was necessary to identify a third party in whom my teammates had high confidence. It was important that that this person not report to me or fall under my sphere of influence at work; confidentiality creates comfort and that helps elicit the most truthful answers.
The person identified to serve as our facilitator would receive my team’s comments electronically and group the answers to each question, randomize their order, standardize the fonts and colors, and create a report for me to review. As a facilitator, he or she would review and edit any comments carefully to ensure that the feedback was sanitized of any information that would allow me to make a connection between the comment and its source.
I found the process to be incredibly liberating. In short, it was one of the best things I have ever done.
I learned things that I do that people I work with appreciate and value. I also learned about some things I do that do not complement their work efforts, and even detract from our mission.
The key for any of us who undertake a 360° evaluation is to look at the comments collectively for a theme of what needs to be addressed. For me, there was a glaring request to be present…in meetings, at events, in discussions. It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had thought nothing of trying to multitask…doing email and text messages during a team meeting, stepping out to take calls. In reality, I was dividing my attention between my teammates and a number of other issues.
Today, I start every morning by walking around to visit with every member of my immediate team. If I am out of town, I stay in touch through email or Facebook. As for dividing my attention… I have refrained from taking my data phone to ANY team meeting. If I have my phone, it is in my pocket on buzz and it never comes out. That was more difficult to do than I had anticipated, but it was immediately commented on.
What did the team think of all this? I believe they saw it as being very positive. Several members expressed appreciation; two even expressed admiration, noting that my action demonstrated that I trusted them to be constructive and was willing to be vulnerable. That I heard their comments, respected them, and acted upon them was very well received.
When you think about it…I showed great respect to my team, learned a lot about myself, improved the work environment and my role in it, and grew as a person and a professional. It cost very little money and paid huge dividends.
I think that, as a team, we’re doing great. Best of all, it’s how I know what I think I know.
(You can download the 360 review form that Dr. DeBowes uses by clicking here or visiting our "Handouts" section.)
Rick DeBowes is the associate dean for veterinary development and external relations at WSU and is the director of the Professional Life Skills program. He is an equine surgeon as well as cofounder of Veterinary Leadership Experience (VLE), an international program to expand the professional vision, communication skills, and servant leadership competencies of veterinary students, faculty, and health care team members.