Healing Healthcare Teams : Vent with Intent

When healthcare teams don't get along, they need a way to vent, to unpack and share what has frustrated them. Providing this time can be scary for leadership: they don't want staff going down a rabbit hole of unrestrained complaining.

But, the truth is, if there are complaints, they are always present. By providing a structured, confidential space to share complaints, leaders can validate, leverage and put a boundary on them.

Our work has shown an immediate benefit to venting: teams of doctors, nurses and administrators actually work better together after initial venting sessions, because they have finally had a release valve for their frustrations.

Venting also yields something even more powerful: individual and team values.

When doctors, nurses and administrators complain about one other, they're telling us what they value, in people and workplace relationships.  Some top values include respect, timeliness, trustworthiness, and collaborative decision making.

The venting process gives each group a chance to see and share their values. And, you won't be surprised to know that many of them overlap across healthcare teams.  Sharing values becomes a turning point in team relationships, and serves as a foundation for building respect, collaboration and results.    

What do you think are the benefits of venting?   And, how do you think values and venting are connected? 

Healing Toxic Teams in Healthcare


There are so many great tools and practices to improve healthcare efficiency and performance. But, what if your team hates working together?  Then it doesn't matter what tool they're using.

Bad workplace relationships will make any tool a nonstarter.

When relationship issues get in the way of teamwork, colleagues don’t communicate respectfully or effectively. "Don't let the nurses take advantage of you." "Those doctors over there are hard to work with." "Don't believe anything that Department tells you". Examples are endless, but the theme is the same: a continuous cycle of mistrust, perpetuated myths, and an overall experience of being stuck.  The culture becomes toxic.  And, it tends to stay that way. 

Patients who witness this disrespect experience a lack of comfort and confidence in the services they receive. When teammates refuse to assist colleagues in the workplace “because it’s not my job”, critical tasks run the risk of being done ineffectively, poorly, or not at all. In organizations such as hospitals where small details can mean the difference between life and death, there is great risk when teams cannot communicate and will not work together. 

Toxic cultures don’t get better by trying to operationalize new team practices. They need a way to heal their old wounds, rally around shared values, and create a culture of cooperation. Otherwise, they have no hope of being able to effectively implement any improvements or efficiencies.  Team healing helps them let go of the past, build trust, and engage together with positive intent. 

Team healing isn't easy, and it takes time. But the results are worth it: improved patient satisfaction and engagement scores, mitigated risk, greater trust, more effective communication, more efficient projects and better quality of life at work.  And, who wouldn’t want to be part of a team like that?

Juicing Failure

Failure is a hot leadership topic.  We all know leaders should learn from it, but how?  A few months back in a NY Times Corner Office column, I caught a delightful nugget of someone who squeezed some juicy learning from a flop.

In the column, a CEO spoke about how she had not been elected to president of a student club in college.  Yet she didn’t let that stop her.  She interviewed people on the panel as to why they didn’t vote for her.  (Wow.  Moxie!)  They said she wasn’t human enough and didn’t share her passion.  The next year, she shared her humility, plus her enthusiasm and vision.  And was elected.

In order to grow from failure, we’ve got to squeeze out the learning out of it.  Think of these as ingredients for learning-from-failure green juice:

1.     Understand why we messed up.  Was it our personal style, or a belief that blindsided us?   Was it a process failure we didn’t pay enough attention to?

2.     Change - Not easy, but we can set a strong intention to change. Then communicate that intention to others.  Ask a trusted colleague or coach to hold us accountable. 

3.     Tenacity - Again and again, we have to keep trying. As a kid, my brother had a Bozo the Clown punching bag that would tip over when hit and bounce right back up again.  Tenacity is what pulls us back up again, even when we don’t feel like it.   Amy Schumer was rejected twice from Last Comic Standing, before making it on and placing fourth.  Now she’s having a huge moment.  She’s clearly taken her hits and gotten back up again, and I’m glad she did.   

The leader above did all these things, and has probably repeated them multiple times over.

So what helps you learn from your favorite failures?  Beets?  Carrots?  Humility?

In a future post I will share one of my own personal favorite failures.

Dig one out, we’ve all got them. 

Would You Rather Serve or Shine?

We encounter two types of CEOs in our work: Golden Boys (or Girls), and Servant Leaders. 

The Golden ones are typically a little too fabulous for their own good: too fabulous to coach staff, or court talent, or do their own homework. In short, they’re too busy to lead.  While they’re busy promoting their own brand, someone else is actually leading their organization.

We’ve also had the privilege of working with CEOs who are humble: they’re eager to roll up their sleeves, listen, engage, and position others to shine.  These are Servant Leaders.  They see themselves as facilitators of others’ success, and know their organizations won’t succeed without the people around them.

Of course, no one is born a CEO; these approaches to leadership develop over time. That means you have choices about the kind of leader you are, and who you want to become, at whatever level you are in your organization.

Here are three ways to build your Servant Leadership muscle:

•    Connect – Get to know people, both on and outside your team.  Learn what matters to them, and share what’s important to you.  These personal connections spark loyalty and motivation. 

•    Trust – Robert Greenleaf, who coined the term Servant Leader, identifies high-trust cultures as ones that empower people to be fast, innovative and collaborative.  To achieve this nimbleness, you can cut down on control, internal horse-racing and politics; your organization will be poised to succeed. 

•    Co-create – “No man is an island”; the same can be said for vision, strategy and process.  Create these with your team, and your team will give everything they’ve got to achieve success. 

The bottom line? Servant leaders are more authentic and more fun to work with than the Golden ones. 

Which kind of leader do you want to become: Golden or Servant?

Appreciate Some Appreciation

I don’t want to say thank you to people for doing their job.”

This came from a brave manager who raised her hand in front of 120 of her peers during a session I was leading on appreciation. 

Of course you don’t want to say, “Thank you for coming in on time today,” or “Thanks for writing up that report and emailing it to me!” 

Showing appreciation isn’t just saying thank you.  It’s not a generic “good job.”

Appreciation is a specific acknowledgement of something you observe about a team member or colleague.  It can be about something they’ve done or even the values they demonstrate at work. 

Research has actually proven that giving appreciation not only makes someone else’s day, but boosts your mood too.  Who couldn’t use some of that?  

 “I noticed how you offered to cover for Ben last night.  That showed your willingness to jump in and help out.  Thanks.”

You went above and beyond in that presentation.  Your delivery was warm, concise and hit the mark.  Well done.”

Appreciation can be given in person or electronically.  The delivery method isn’t as important as the fact that you say something specific and genuine.

As hardworking leaders and managers, share an example of appreciation someone has given YOU that made a big impact?   And - how do you like to give appreciation?  We know you’ve got some tips.  We’d love to hear.

Why You Gotta Be So Rude?

We work with lots of leaders and teams to improve their performance, through better communication, improved decision-making, and leveraged strengths.  We have a number of tools to address these challenges - and they work - but at the end of the day, it's all in the way clients carry them out: HOW client organizations communicate, or make decisions or acknowledge strengths - their attitude - makes all the difference.

Recent studies have shown that over 60% of employees experience incivility at work, and 40% are looking for other employment as a result.  Pause for a moment to look around the room you're in right now: most of the people you see have been on the wrong end of a bad attitude at work, and almost half are job hunting because of it.  Imagine what that's doing to the productivity of your organization. 

To move your teams from conflict to collaboration, they have to be grounded in their larger purpose:

  • WHO are we here to help?

  • WHAT are we trying to achieve?

  • And, most importantly, HOW am I showing up?

These are the anchors of civility and collaboration at work.  And they'll even renew your passion for what you do.

So, what's the prevailing attitude where you work?

Steve Salee, Partner, Wildfire Strategies

One Thing At A Time

Behavior change doesn't happen five tips at a time.  People can't remember all those new behaviors at once, much less put them into action.  They can make one change at a time.

So, what's the ONE thing you could change, right now, that would make a difference in your work or life?  I don't mean become CEO or invent the next iPhone; something you can do NOW that might create a shift for you.  Turn off screens an hour before bed, or Prepare for that next project one day earlier are examples that come to mind.

Other examples include:

•   Ask colleagues how you can be better partners

•   Begin presentations with the punch-line, then offer the nitty-gritty

•   Remind your team of their strengths

You already know what to do to make things better.  It's that "If only....." issue on the tip of your tongue or the top of your mind.  And, here's the thing: it doesn't matter which issue you choose.  Any one will create a positive shift for you.  So, don't fret over what to pick to make your life better.  The important thing is to start.  

And…keep it going.  Commit to maintaining that change for the next month.  That's how long it takes for change to become habit.  And, once you've got that first one down, CELEBRATE! 

Then, try another.

So what’s your One Thing? Tell us below!


Welcome to Wildfire Spark!

Welcome to our Blog: Wildfire Spark!

Each month, we spend hours with leaders and many more thinking about leadership.  We love it.  We want people to be inspired in whatever role they play, and happier at work.

We love getting in there with clients wherever there is for them.  There could be how to manage their team better, or delegate, or deal with a challenging colleague or boss.  We want to figure out with clients where there is for them, and help them expand their unique talents into leadership strengths.

Sometimes along the way we have insights that come on like bright lights, and we want to share those with you in these blog posts.  We hope our flashes of insights, inspired by work with clients (or sometimes the news or pop-culture) are helpful to you. 

Some posts will be by Elena Deutsch, others by Steve Salee, and sometimes we will have guests.  We will post once a week, and we encourage you to share if you like what you read, and leave a comment.  

By sharing our spark, we hope it will ignite you in whatever leadership role you inhabit - to move your work, your team, and your organization forward. 

And that, we love.