Developing Leaders – Building Teams

5 leadership lessons from high performing teams in the Operating Room

The last thing I remember as I was drifting off to “la-la” land was the big spotlight shining down on me. I was on my back in a hospital bed in the operating room at a local medical center. I was about to undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my left knee. When I woke up in the recovery room 90 minutes later, I was greeted by several people, including my surgeon who shared the results of the successful procedure.

Later at home resting comfortably in relatively no pain, I reflected on what happened that day as I often do following events like this. I crafted a mental after-action review on the leadership lessons people can learn from the performance of the operating room team.

The Operating Room

Operating rooms (OR) and their teams fascinate me in many ways. The principle way lies in the high-performance culture that must exist for the team to be successful. The anesthesia staff (physicians and nurse anesthetists) and OR staff (nurses, techs, and more) live in the operating room working with multiple surgeons throughout the week. They are critical leaders and members of the team that provide the foundation for the OR culture. The actual surgery team is led by a surgeon who not only must possess exceptional technical skills but must also have the leadership skills that inspire all team members to work collaboratively to achieve a successful outcome. High performing OR teams work in collaboration, keep their egos in check and never lose focus on the objective of a successful surgical outcome.

Six years ago I was asked to speak at a healthcare conference on lessons learned from the army that can help build high performing teams in the operating room. While I was well-versed from the army side, I needed to learn more about the operating room environment if I was going to be relevant to my audience. To secure this knowledge I interviewed many OR team members including physicians, nurses, technicians, and more. I also observed two major surgeries first-hand to see high performing OR teams in action.

This short article only begins to do justice to the magnitude of how an effective OR team is formed, prepares for, executes, and follows up for a surgical procedure. I have great respect and admiration for every member of OR teams. They have powerful lessons summarized here that can be put to immediate use to help you whether you are a senior executive in a Fortune 500 company or in a leadership role in any other organization.

5 Lessons

  1. There exists one single, most important objective. The single objective is a successful surgical outcome for the patient. Every member of the team is focused on this objective first, with their own individual or department objectives second. The single objective provides the purpose of their work and direction for action.
  2. Commitment by the senior leaders. The surgeon is the leader of this team and must be absolutely committed to the objective. Equally important is the anesthesiologist who must be absolutely in synch with the surgeon.
  3. Teamwork. Just like the surgeon, every member of the OR team must be equally committed to the objective. Every member of the team is responsible for exercising their unique technical and leadership skills to inspire the best performance of the team. These skills include planning, communicating, delegating, enforcing, educating, training, encouraging, thanking and more. Great teams have clarity in who does what. Great teams have members who set aside their egos, trust each other and are willing to hold each other accountable. Great teams collaborate on all actions necessary to ensure success. Great teams constantly learn.
  4. Well-defined processes and procedures. The best ORs function like clockwork. Well-defined processes and procedures that everyone is trained to standard on create efficiency and effectiveness while reducing the risk of something going wrong.
  5. Skilled professionals on the team. There is no substitute for having skilled and talented professionals at every position on the team.

There are many obstacles in the path of achieving high performance in the OR. For example, there are many departments involved who have their own priorities such as surgery, anesthesia, nursing. There are logistic, maintenance, and scheduling challenges that impact facility readiness. There may be trust issues with members of the team or attitude issues or behavior challenges or misplaced loyalties. Any one of these obstacles (and others) can disrupt the effort to achieve a successful surgical outcome.

Obstacles in the path of success exist in every organization. Imagine how it would feel if you and your leadership team performed like the high performing team in an operating room? What would the impact be on the results you are trying to achieve?

Call to Action

Just like the spotlight shined brightly on me in the OR, shine these five lessons on your organization. Recommit yourself to the role of helping your team become more effective, more efficient, and ultimately achieve greater results.

I wish you the best in your leadership journey!

Posted by Jeff Foley - Blog - March 05, 2020