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Building a resilient practice team

Practices which want to move forward successfully and weather the storms need to be resilient organisations. Fiona Dalziel explains how you can achieve this.

Creating a supportive culture will help individuals to become resilient (Picture: iStock)
Creating a supportive culture will help individuals to become resilient (Picture: iStock)

Resilience is undeniably vital in general practice today; moreover, it is as vital for the organisation as for the individual. However, resilience as a management concept is new to many. How can we ensure that the magic ingredients are present?

For the manager (GP or practice manager), it is vital to support resilience in response to a challenge or crisis and develop resilience proactively as an ongoing activity blended with good management practice.

Promoting and supporting individual resilience

Individuals within a team will react differently to difficult or challenging situations. For some, being challenged provides stimulation, energy and creativity. For others, the same situation may produce a stress reaction. What should a manager consider in order to promote resilience for team members as individuals?

1.Create a supportive culture that cares for individuals  
To do this consider the following:

  • Workplace wellbeing schemes eg the British Heart Foundation’s Health at Work Scheme  
  • A practice complaints support mechanism - how the practice supports a partner or salaried GP if there is a complaint
  • Looking after people in crisis – what do you do if a member of staff with a good absence record is frequently and unpredictably absent due to a family crisis?

2. Know your team members 
Regular one-to-one meetings with team members reap an unexpected level of reward. These meetings are not performance reviews or appraisals, but unstructured, protected time to speak, listen and respond.

3. Ensure you are managing people effectively
Establish and maintain a structure within which you manage people. This will include:

  • A recruitment policy including how you recruit internally
  • Job descriptions which are up to date
  • Effective induction training
  • Regular staff appraisals
  • A performance management policy including capability

Individuals function better and feel more supported when they have a clear role and expectations, standards are set and regular feedback is given on their progress.

If staff are struggling be clear about what the post requires and provide training and support. Acknowledge their problems, look for practical solutions together and review progress. For staff who are performing well consider how you could capitalise on their strengths and support them to do even better.

4. Know yourself
Managers are constantly observed by the team. Their actions and reactions are noted and these impact significantly on others. A leader cannot be effective without good self-knowledge.

What personality type are you and what impact does that have? What are your resilience strengths?  What could you build on and improve? How do you typically respond to pressure? What is that impact?  Do you become more controlling, less tolerant, less able to find time to listen?

Creating resilience in the team as a whole

1. Have a plan
Individual and organisational resilience depend on having a plan: a sense of the general direction in which things should be moving. Look ahead to what is on the horizon and ask difficult questions. What if something went wrong? What could that realistically be? What’s the worst that could happen? How would we cope? What can we put in place now that would help us if that happened? 

A plan is not a rigid path down which the organisation must travel, but should create a sense of direction of travel even if there are temporary diversions onto side roads. A resilient organisation will cope well with diversions, handle the consequences, and eventually get back on track.

2. Involve everyone
Resilience can be improved by having a sense of control, no matter how small that sphere of control may be. Most team members will be motivated and empowered by having input into planning processes and decision-making, including decisions about their own job. Have the courage to consult, listen and respond.

3. Instilling meaning
Many receptionists could earn more working on the till in the local supermarket, and yet they stay in the practice. Capitalise on this commitment by looking for opportunities to promote feelings of usefulness or pride in achievement and recognition that all team members make a difference to patients’ lives. Motivated and engaged staff will be more resilient than staff who feel that work is just part of the day to be got through.

4. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative
When problem solving or planning, talk about what is positive rather than what is missing: what’s good that’s going on, how can we do more of that and build on it, what will make that work even better? Lead the team by ensuring your own attitude is positive and encourage positive, constructive communication between colleagues and at meetings. Remain calm and respectful and make clear you expect this of others.

5.Manage conflict
Conflict can be corrosive and destructive, undermining confidence and both team and individual resilience. It requires proactive management, conflict resolution skills and promotion of collaboration. If you feel that conflict is not effectively managed in your practice, talk about how that might be improved.  

6.Work on resilience skills
Explore ways of examining and promoting resilience as a team. Identify someone as a Resilience Champion, arrange training and ongoing support for them and look at ways of ensuring cascade training and resilience-promoting activities.

Applying these principles in practice

Good management can help team members cope with workplace challenges in the short-term. In addition, goal-setting and other motivational techniques may help build longer-term personal resilience, although much is dependent on the interaction of the individual with their work versus their personal situation and how much support they have.

A practice which works on establishing resilient team members will find they have a more resilient team.

Useful resource
Cary Cooper, Jill Flint-Taylor and Pichael Pearn, Building resilience for success (2013: Palgrave Macmillan)

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