By Samira Abdul-Karim, Consultant , and Cameron Froude, PhD LMFT
Teamwork is an important tool in every industry. In customer service organizations in particular, teamwork can be a critical factor in producing the best outcomes for clients, customers, and patients. In service industries, clients often present a specific problem. The best service providers don’t only consider the problem presented, but also consider the whole client, customer, or patient when developing a solution.
What does it mean to consider “the whole client”? It’s about understanding what the client does, what they want to do (their goals), and what’s getting in the way. The inquiry goes beyond the symptoms in order to decipher the source. This is where your team becomes valuable. Each professional in your organization brings a level of expertise and perspective, and plays a specific role in meeting the client need. While many of us are able to collaborate with an individual, or complete our specific task and then hand off the work to another department, we are not as good at truly working on a cross-functional team to accomplish a goal. Organizations, leaders, and professionals are often ill-equipped to work effectively across functions and doing so would require a new way of working.
So how can cross-functional teams collaborate and engage in order to provide the highest quality experience to clients and customers? Here are some recommendations to consider with cross-functional team building.
Cross-Functional Team Building
- Center the goals – Rigorously keeping the needs of the client and the goals of the team at the forefront will allow the team to stay focused. The team’s first priority should be to provide the best outcome for the client. When challenges arise, revisiting this value can help clarify avenues for action.
- Assemble the right team – When working across disciplines, it can be tempting to include everyone in order to maximize the expertise on the team. However, large and unwieldy teams can impact the engagement and effectiveness of the team. Identify your core team and then determine other professionals that need to be consulted at specified junctures.
- Decide on decision-making – It is easy to fall into the traditional dynamic of one leader and decision-maker. But on cross-functional teams, that dynamic can undermine the value that interprofessional teams bring. As an individual leader you are often held personally accountable for the decisions you make. In an interprofessional team, the entire team is accountable for the outcome. Thus, the team must select a decision-making process that capitalizes on each of their contributions. The team may still select to create a leader role, but accountability remains with everyone.
- Know each other’s skills and scope – Understand the expertise that each team member brings and their role in serving the client. Authenticity is paramount here in order for there to be alignment and clarity around roles. Trust in the skills and contributions of each team member, and getting clear on the value that they bring allows the team to operate with fairness and transparency. Not clarifying this can lead to unhealthy conflict, questioning, and lack of trust.
- Welcome healthy conflict – The diverse perspectives of diverse teams can lead to powerful outcomes. These outcomes do not emerge without challenges. Team members with dissimilar worldviews might approach situations from very different vantage points. Admiration for a different viewpoint could quickly lead to resentment and frustration. Engaging in healthy, open conflict facilitates frank discussions about a variety of ways to examine a problem without allowing differences to be a barrier. Invite dissent in the spirit of the best solution.
A Case Example
Let’s apply these cross-functional team building ideas to a healthcare scenario. In this scenario, a patient arrives for a primary care visit. After initial intake and testing, the patient receives a diabetes diagnosis. Centering the goal in this situation would mean focusing on the needs of the patient in order to produce the best possible outcome in treating this disease.
Building a cross-functioning team ensures that the whole patient is considered, not only their physical ailments. The integrated staff for this patient includes a physician, a nurse practitioner, a medical family therapist, a care coordinator, and a health educator. In this scenario, this low-income patient is experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Considering the specific situation of this patient, the physician, care coordinator, and medical family therapist will serve as the core team, while the nurse practitioner and health educator will be consulted at designated times as members of the extended team.
The team values consensus and selects that as their decision-making process. This means that they need not always agree, but must always align on the appropriate intervention before commencing and communicating with the patient. The team meets to clarify best practices based on their knowledge and expertise to treat the patient. They collectively develop a treatment plan, complete with the social supports necessary to serve this low-income individual. The extended team is consulted and provides input before the plan is finalized.
The extended team disagreed on the order of the steps in the treatment plan. Team members openly shared their perspectives. Disagreements were not personal; they were clinical. Healthy disagreement led to members considering alternate viewpoints and integrating varied worldviews and perspectives into the plan. Utilizing these effective teamwork strategies led to improved patient care and increased cohesion among team members.
Lessons for All
Leveraging the diverse skill sets on an integrated team is challenging and requires commitment at all systemic levels. Effective teamwork exists on a continuum and requires team member engagement in daily tasks, each other, and goals. Putting teamwork and customer service together can be as frustrating as it is rewarding. The harmony among individuals from different professions can take time to achieve and takes work to sustain. Whether serving a patient or delivering a product or service to a client, considering the full range of their needs and developing a strategy to support and sustain the delivery makes for better quality outcomes and builds client and patient loyalty. All industries should consider lessons learned to determine which professionals in their organization can be leveraged in order to achieve this goal.
Do you see an opportunity for better or more teamwork in your organization? What is it, and what gets in the way? Comment below.