Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has brought unprecedented stress to society at large and perhaps most of all to frontline health care teams in a variety of settings.1 Although a crisis “can stimulate some people’s willingness to cooperate […] the incessant stress present during a crisis makes it significantly harder for teams to sustain coordinated performance over time.”1

To address the challenges of managing teamwork during the pandemic, we spoke to Allison Traylor, MA, a PhD student in Industrial Organizational Psychology at Rice University, Houston, Texas and coauthor of “Managing Teamwork in the Face of Pandemic: Evidence-Based Tips”, which appeared in BMJ Quality and Safety.1

What informed the review you coauthored?

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The lead author on our article was Scott Tannenbaum, PhD, who is the President of the Group for Organizational Effectiveness. The other coauthors were Eduardo Salas, PhD, chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences at Rice, and Eric Thomas, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, McGovern Medical School, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston.

Over the past 3 decades, scientists have researched teamwork in times of crisis. The review authors have advised teams in a variety of different settings, medical and otherwise, and have studied the increasing body of research on team effectiveness. Many of these industries involve high pressure serious consequences of failure, such as astronauts, deep-sea divers, jet fighter pilots, smokejumpers, miners, EMTs, soldiers, and trauma teams.

Seven Tips for Managing Teamwork During a Pandemic

1. Celebrate all successes-big and small
2. Make sure team members understand their roles and priorities
3. Don’t overlook anyone, including team members who work behind the scenes
4. Encourage mutual team monitoring and support
5. Foster psychological safety
6. Help team members identify and address concerns within their own lives
7. Consciously boost team resiliency

Based on 50 meta-analyses on team effectiveness and the personal experience of the authors, we decided to address the urgent need for team effectiveness during this time of COVID-19.

What types of stressors does COVID-19 pose to health care teams?

COVID-19 creates stress on multiple levels; individual, team, organizational, and work-life.

On an individual level, health care workers may feel concerns about their own health, or that of their families. They may also feel overworked, fatigued, or burnt out.

Team-level stressors include lack of team member expertise—for example, when people have to assume new roles—as well as unfamiliarity with new team members, increased consequences of mistakes that both team members and patients will experience, and new or unfamiliar processes or procedures.

On an organizational level, insufficient resources, such as PPE and ventilators have been a major challenge. 

Large health care systems as well as individual medical practices face enormous financial repercussions of COVID-19. Elective procedures and outpatient visits have plummeted, resulting in loss of revenue to hospitals as well as practices.2,3

Finally, work-life stressors, which are difficult to navigate even at the best of times, take a toll during COVID-19. These include concerns about family and friends, financial concerns due to unemployment or furlough of family members, and social isolation.

This article originally appeared on MPR