Today in the chart

4 Simple, Low-Cost Team Exercises That Will Change Your Unit’s Culture

Poor team work can hurt patient care. Reversing a unit’s culture may seem impossible, but these activities make it simple, inexpensive and most of all, fun.

In any healthcare setting, team members rely on colleagues often, but the stakes of errors can be sky-high.

Research indicates that teamwork can demonstrably improve patient care. But units often fail to collaborate when employees don’t feel invested in the department’s goals and values, notes Charles Kunkle, MSN, CEN, CCRN, who’s written a book about energizing bedside caregivers titled “No Time to Care.” “Most people who work at the bedside don’t know what their mission statement is,” Kunkle says. “It doesn’t ring true to them because, number one, they didn’t make it.”

Kunkle sat down with Florence Health to share some practical exercises that, in his experience, can change a unit’s culture in just a few days.

Create A Vision Statement

“Create your vision statement made up of rules and philosophies that your department makes — not the leaders, but everyone from the housekeepers to the registrars to the nurses to the physicians,” Kunkle says.

For this activity, all you need is a pack of notecards. Hand them out to everyone in your department and ask them to write down their answers to two questions: What makes a great department to work in? What makes a great team member?

The organizer should then collect the responses, synthesize every answer into a set of meaningful values, and pin them to a bulletin board, ideally in a central location in the department.

The result is individual accountability and community support, Kunkle says. Employees want to uphold the values they decided were essential and encourage others to do the same.

Good Deeds and Beads

Kunkle shared this trick during his keynote speech at the 2019 Magnet Conference. An ER team he worked with several years ago proposed this program.

Buy wine rings for every employee in your department and a bunch of beads. Participating employees should attach the wine ring to their ID, and every time they do a good deed, they can add a blue bead to the ring. After earning five blue beads, they can trade up to another color bead or receive a lower level prize. The process continues for two more colors. Finally, after receiving five beads of the fourth color, the employee has earned a day off.

However, the most interesting part of the initiative was that over ten years, Kunkle says, only one person traded in the beads. Why? “When you traded in your beads, you had to start all over at blue, and nobody wanted to do it,” Kunkle notes. “They’d say, ‘I wear these beads with pride. This is who my colleagues say I am, what I’ve done … or patients ask me what the beads are, and I get to tell them about all the wonderful things I’ve done, and they get the confidence that I’m an awesome care provider.’”

Strengths, Weaknesses, Needs, and Pet Peeves

This activity is incredibly educational for people in management positions. Take a notecard and divide it into four sections. Write your strengths, weaknesses, needs, and pet peeves in each section.

After you’ve filled it out, bring it to a loved one, whether a partner or close friend, and ask them to be completely honest and add to it. Then, if you’re feeling courageous, bring it to work and ask a coworker you trust to look it over and add to it again.

This process highlights the differences between how you see yourself and what others notice. You can use it to improve behaviors you might not have otherwise realized can discourage or upset coworkers.

Golden Urinal Awards

Kunkle says he has three requirements for team-building programs: they must be fun, simple, and inexpensive. With those parameters, an ED team in his career created the “Golden Urinal Awards.”

Kunkle’s team reserved the auditorium, which required no money, and various members stashed urinals to be given out as prizes over several months. Next came the award categories: “funny,” “lift us up,” and “-of the year.” Inspirational titles included “The ER Tech You Want By Your Side When Your Patient is Crashing” and “Rookie of the Year.”

Employees loved the program so much that they expanded it without poking or prodding. The “crafters,” as Kunkle calls them, customized the urinals to look like the awards they represented and created “the golden urinal hall of fame” to present the title winners’ plaques in the hospital.

The most effective part of the program, more than the motivation from the possibility of recognition, Kunkle stresses, was building it as a team: “When we do things together, we can do amazing things.”

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