1. Launch "game week." Love those old, classic board games like "Sorry!"? Healthcare consultant and former practice nurse Audrey "Christie" McLaughlin suggests having a "game week" where staff gets to play different games and set up tournament brackets. Play time can be at lunch breaks, and winners can play each other on Friday for the championship. "This really gets people talking to each other outside of their normal zone of interaction, creates bonding, and [fosters] healthy competition," she says.
2. Race together. Competition is exciting and can be fun, too. So why not gather a few brave souls to compete in a local, athletic challenge? Some good ones include the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure (held in more than a dozen locations throughout the country), or the Warrior Dash, a race/obstacle course where teams wade through mud, trudge up hills, and even jump over fire to victory (and there are free beers).
3. Find neutral ground. Get outside and try something new, suggests P.J. Cloud-Moulds, owner of consulting firm Turnaround Medical AR Recovery. "For instance, living in San Diego, we take people out on our sailboat and put them to work," she says. "Staff can learn how to hoist the mainsheet by pointing the boat into the wind, steer the boat, tack or jibe the boat, and have an overall sense of contribution. Afterwards, we have some hors d'oeuvres and I have them help with that, too. It's a fun day to relax and not be a front-office person, a physician, a nurse, [or] a biller."
4. Engage in professional development seminars. Everyone has something they need or want to work on, whether it's time management or improving social skills. Invite staff to participate in an online seminar during their lunch hour, or attend a talk held by a great motivational speaker. Your staff will improve their own knowledge base — in addition to acquiring skills that could improve operations.
5. Volunteer. Close the office for a day and as a team, volunteer for disaster relief efforts, Habitat for Humanity, a local soup kitchen, or similar type program, says human resource and practice management expert Bob Levoy. "In addition to giving back to your community, volunteer activities outside the office can help build teamwork, morale, and give employees the opportunity to feel good about themselves," he says. "They'll also think more of you."
6. Establish an employee-recognition program. McLaughlin recommends instituting a "Shining Star Award" or other form of recognition to get the goodwill flowing. "Get the staff vote on it via secret ballot, and then award a star pin for the winning employee's name badge, a gift certificate to the local coffee shop or a drink at the local drive-in restaurant, or even an up-close parking spot," says McLaughlin. "The cost is far less important than the recognition."
7. Get to know each other. Medical Group Management Association consultant Rosemarie Nelson uses a simple tool to "humanize" interactions with groups. "I ask each person to write down something that no one else in the practice knows about themselves," says Nelson, adding that whatever they write down has to be about them, not their kids/spouse/etc. "Then I distribute each piece of paper to someone different in the group. I ask the group, 'Who thinks they have the most unusual note?' I ask this a few times and each time each person shares the paper they received by reading it out loud, and the 'owners' reveal themselves. It generates a lot of 'I didn't know that about you and helps the team appreciate other aspects of each other which fosters more interest in each other and ... more teamwork."
8. Implement theme days. Have staff build team spirit by declaring certain days "theme days" (such as superhero day during which everyone dresses up in costume). "After the first theme week, have one theme day a month," says McLaughlin. "Staff and patients will smile at the interpretations and staff will work together to plan and encourage each other."
9. Hold meetings. If staff is kept in the loop about what's going on in your practice, it helps them relax, and it helps eliminate petty jealousies and paranoia, says Carol Stryker, founder of Houston-based medical practice consulting firm Symbiotic Solutions. In addition, when staff hears about the problems that other folks are facing during staff meetings, it builds empathy and understanding.
Marisa Torrieri is an associate editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at [email protected].
Aubrey Westgate is an associate editor for Physicians Practice. She can be reached at [email protected].
This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Physicians Practice.