The Value in Being a True Team Player

Image of doctors and nurses talking at table

Everyone in health care knows they are part of the health care team. But saying you are part of the team and demonstrating a team player’s key characteristics are often two very different things.

Two respiratory care managers offer their take on the team in respiratory care and how team players increase their chances of getting ahead on the job.

Listen to The Babe

David Orloff, BS, RRT, RPSGT, RST, LSSGB, respiratory therapy manager at Jersey Shore University Medical Center in Neptune, NJ, likes to quote the legendary baseball player Babe Ruth when he talks about the value of teamwork in his department: The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.

“I look at my department as a professional team, and I am their coach,” Orloff said. “We celebrate wins and losses together, we learn from them, and that makes us stronger.” To him, the RT team functions very much like a family, and only by working together for the good of the whole family can everyone in the RT family succeed.

He believes instilling this mindset in his team is one reason why his hospital recently received the AARC’s Apex Recognition Award for the second time.

“That team approach allows us to deliver the best care we can,” he said.

Fit beats smart

As manager of respiratory therapy and pulmonary diagnostics at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, VA, Joanna Hudak, MSM, RRT, RRT-NPS, says the first thing she does when hiring new RTs is look for fit with her department. The ability to promote teamwork is high on her list of what that fit looks like.

“We ask behavior-based questions and for applicants to give us an example of a time they have promoted teamwork among a team or a group they have worked for,” she said. “It has been my experience that past behavior is a strong indicator of future performance.” When the applicant is a new grad, she’ll inquire about the level of teamwork they engaged in during their program to find out how they view the concept. Anything negative that turns up is a red flag.

“I once interviewed a new student, and she was top of her class and very book smart,” Hudak said. “What I learned was that no one wanted to work with her on their final project because she was ‘difficult to work with.’ I did not offer her the job, even though she was the ‘smartest.’”

What makes a good team player?

Both Orloff and Hudak have firm ideas about what makes an RT a team player and what doesn’t.

Hudak believes team players are those who can stand up to criticism and learn from it.

“One of the first things I tell all new hires is that whenever anyone peer coaches you, it’s a gift,” she said. “It shows that they care about you, the patient, and your performance as a team member.” While it may be natural to get your defenses up when someone corrects what you are doing, shutting down the peer coaching process even one time will make it less likely anyone will try to peer coach you in the future, and that can put a big damper on how people view your commitment to the team concept.

Just as important, she continues, is recognizing and appreciating when a coworker goes above and beyond for you. Staying late to complete work that would otherwise be left for you to handle alone is a prime example.

“While shifts can get busy, take the time to send an email, including the manager or supervisor, so that their efforts are captured and hopefully documented in their evaluations,” Hudak said.

Her final bit of advice for enhancing your role on the team is to do your part in keeping gossip at bay.

“There will always be those employees who stir the pot and make things worse than they really are,” she said. “If someone speaks ill of a coworker, have the courage to defend your coworker. Have the courage to speak directly to a peer if you identify a variance in their work or behavior. We all need to extend kindness to each other, especially during these very difficult times.”

Orloff says he looks for therapists who are open to suggestions when assessing their commitment to their coworkers. Asking other team members “What do you think?” or “What would you do?” opens the door to greater communication, and greater communication lies at the heart of the playbook when it comes to operating as a team.

He also suggests therapists look for opportunities to take the initiative when they see a situation where someone needs help or the department is seeking an extra pair of hands. Don’t wait to be asked.

“Offer suggestions or read the situation,” he said. If it seems appropriate, step in and get the job done.

Lastly, he emphasizes the need to be both compassionate and reliable. If you show your teammates some understanding when you can see they are struggling or need a helping hand, they will turn to you again when things get tough. They will see you as someone they can always count on.

“People tend to gravitate to whom they respect and trust,” Orloff said.

Rising to the top

David Orloff says good team players naturally rise to become leaders within their groups, and Joanna Hudak agrees.

“If someone is a team player and viewed by their peers as a team player, then that shows leadership ability,” she said. “In respiratory therapy, we need more leaders vs. people who want to manage others. Leaders inspire others to join them on their journey and move the needle toward the department and hospital goals.”

She believes most managers look to promote people who have become informal leaders in their groups because those are the people who have already demonstrated a track record of speaking up on behalf of their coworkers when concerns have arisen and offered solutions to the problem.

“Being a good problem solver is of great importance,” she continued. “Staff want to follow leaders who have solutions and are trustworthy.”

Orloff looks for other characteristics when gauging the promotability of team players.

“Are they continuing their education?” he asks. “Are they active in educating our team as well as other health care team members?” Successful team members seek out the additional knowledge they know is needed for their department to thrive, and they freely share it with everyone who can help achieve that goal.

Therapists who engage in community service or other worthwhile activities outside of the department get kudos from him because people who give their time to causes they care about are those who tend to support their fellow team members.

Something to consider

So the next time you hear someone talk about teamwork in your department, take a few moments to consider the comments made by these two respiratory care managers about what it means to be a true team player. Incorporating their advice into your day-to-day job may help elevate your stature, not only in the eyes of your fellow team members but in the eyes of your department managers as well.

Heading to the New Era

Elevate | Engage | Advocate | Educate