group of nurses
group of nurses

Building Strong Nursing Teams

From the time we are children, we learn that teamwork is important. But does teamwork make a real difference in people's lives? How about in the workplace? What about high-stakes industries like healthcare, where life and death are truly on the line? The answer is an overwhelming "yes" — teamwork in healthcare matters a great deal and makes fundamental differences in people's lives. 

Stories, studies, and statistics alike testify to the fact that healthcare team dynamics correlate to critical factors like patient outcomes and satisfaction, nurse burnout, and innovation. For these reasons and more, learning how to build an effective team can help nurses and advanced practice nurses, like family nurse practitioners, to deliver excellent care and contribute to positive company culture.

Why Is Teamwork Important in Healthcare? 

Whether at the highest executive levels and in boardrooms or in entry-level nursing positions and clinic rooms, teamwork makes a marked difference in healthcare. 

The evidence is clear: teamwork in healthcare leads to better results for everyone. From improved efficiency to better patient outcomes and satisfaction, cohesive nursing teams make a positive difference. Nurses themselves experience higher job satisfaction and lower rates of turnover when they are part of effective nursing teams. Teamwork has also been linked to high levels of job engagement and lower levels of burnout. 

On the other hand, when nursing teams struggle with interpersonal conflict, lack of a shared vision, or communication problems, the results can be profoundly negative. Studies have found that teamwork failures (such as communication failures) account for approximately three-fourths of serious medical errors and decrease the quality of patient care. 

These studies highlight the importance of teamwork in nursing, showing that it creates meaningful change for individuals, teams, and organizations alike. 

Team Building Strategies in Nursing

For the nurse who is feeling overwhelmed or simply out of time in the workday, the thought of adding team-building strategies may seem like one too many things to prioritize. But there are several strategies that are simple to implement and are not time-consuming, and they actually may end up creating more space in a nurse's schedule. 

For example, one hospital discovered that they were losing $4 million every year due to communication inefficiencies. Addressing gaps like these only helps hospitals to better use their money and improve patient outcomes by empowering staff members to spend their time communicating in more efficient, effective ways.

In addition to communication, there are several other healthcare team dynamics that you can develop to help bring about positive outcomes. Identifying, commending, and encouraging the use of individual skills to achieve a team goal can both build team members up and encourage them to hone their own skills. Those dynamics also include clearly defining roles, prioritizing self-care, and supporting teammates in times of success and times of failure. 

Strategy 1: Cultivate Great Communication

Strong communication improves nearly every part of life, and nursing teams are no exception. In fact, good communication on healthcare teams directly links to improvement in working relationships and job satisfaction. 

So what qualities can you display to cultivate good communication on a nursing team? Some examples include:

  • Clearly articulating the division of tasks
  • Welcoming questions and providing helpful answers
  • Encouraging team members in conflict to speak directly to each other about the issue

Good communication depends on all team members knowing how and when they can share their opinions, concerns, and ideas. You may want to institute weekly staff meetings as the time for collaboration, or maybe a technology solution like surveys, communication platforms, or text messaging can be promoted as communication channels. 

Agreeing to a set of communication standards as a team can also make a positive difference. For example, your team members could agree that they will communicate with each other in ways that show they believe the best about the person they are talking to, trust that the other person is working hard, and invite collaboration. As a team leader, consider committing to being available for conversation or concerns at certain times during a shift. By addressing the topic of communication and making a concerted effort to improve it, nurse teams can increase their trust in each other and co-create a better working culture. 

Strategy 2: Orient Individual Skills toward Team Goals

One of the best ways for nurse leaders to strengthen their teams is through individual conversations that point back to the collective good. For example, if, as a nurse leader, you identify a nurse who is especially gifted at time management, you could celebrate that gift by communicating that she sees how efficiently the nurse is working and appreciates it. Then, you might ask her to collaborate on a time management plan for fellow nurses in the department. 

Or, if you notice that a nurse is especially skilled at talking to patients who are anxious or panicked, you may pull him aside to compliment that specific, special ability. You may then ask him to share with the team some of the techniques, principles, or strategies he draws upon when comforting a panicked patient. 

By praising individual skills and leveraging them on behalf of others, nurse leaders can benefit their entire team. The person praised is encouraged because their gifts are seen, acknowledged, and shared. The team benefits from learning a new skill, approach, or strategy. And you, as the nurse leader, share your training responsibilities and very likely have a happier team to manage.

Strategy 3: Clearly Define Roles

A common error in team building is promoting an "all hands on deck" approach without clarifying what each of those hands should be doing. While effective interdisciplinary teams are made up of healthcare professionals who are happy to help one another when the moment calls for it, true cooperation and collaboration work best when responsibilities are appropriately divided by management and owned by individuals. 

Nurse leaders who know their individual team members well and see how their gifts and abilities can lead to the best outcomes for nurses, the team, and patients alike, will find it effective to assign tasks. Clearly communicating those assignments helps everyone to know what is inside and outside of their purview. 

Of course, nursing is full of moments when things do not go as expected and responsibilities need to be shuffled. But that is all the more reason for you to be clear about them from the beginning. That way, when a change needs to occur, a clear conversation about who can help and how is able to take place. 

Strategy 4: Prioritize Self-Care

Nurses are known for their deep compassion for others. But researchers and real-world examples are making clear that without self-care, nurses can experience fatigue and burnout. Nurse leaders can strengthen their teams by promoting self-care among the nurses they manage. 

Rather than simply saying general statements like "self-care is important," you can help the nurses you lead take concrete steps by offering specific ideas such as:

  • Scheduling a 10-minute walk during the workday
  • Breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation techniques
  • Using vacation time instead of allowing it to accrue perpetually
  • Utilizing employer-provided mental health supports

Work-life balance can be hard to come by as a nurse, but having a manager who models, can make it much easier. By making healthy choices such as taking time off to spend with family and cultivating hobbies, you as a nurse leader can empower your team to make similar choices that honor their needs for work, family life, rest, and recreation. 

Strategy 5: Support Your Teammates

The only thing more lonely than being alone is feeling isolated while on a team. Nurse leaders can help ward off that experience for their nurses by promoting a culture that shares both successes and failures. Active listening, for example, can both help struggling nurses to feel heard and model a communication style that they can emulate as well. 

There are many more ways to model teammate support. When someone does well, praise them in front of the team and look for opportunities to express gratitude for anyone who helped them — however small. When failures happen, avoid casting the full blame on an individual and look for ways to talk about how the team dynamics and system can be improved to avoid such failures in the future. 

Remember: patients and nurses alike benefit from strong, supportive teams. While many nursing tasks may be performed individually, nurses should never feel isolated. Intentional encouragement and building a culture of mutual support can improve morale and a sense of belonging.

Prepare to Build Strong Nursing Teams through a Master's in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner Degree Program at Walsh University Online

Strong leadership skills are an essential component of building strong nursing teams. In fact, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing lists leadership development among the essential core competencies for professional nursing education, including elements such as:

  • Compare and contrast leadership principles and theories.
  • Demonstrate leadership skills in times of uncertainty and crisis.
  • Communicate a consistent image of the nurse as a leader.

The coursework in the Master's in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner Program at Walsh University Online includes leadership development in courses like Advanced Professional Nursing Roles, in which students explore advanced professional nursing roles within complex health systems, interprofessional partnerships, professionalism, population health, and leadership. In Applications of Epidemiology to Health Services, nurse executives and clinical nurse leaders are provided the conceptual orientation and the knowledge of techniques from epidemiology to design, manage, and evaluate nursing and health care delivery systems.

Do you want to be an FNP who builds strong teams for the good of patients? The Master's in Nursing Family Nurse Practitioner Degree Program at Walsh University Online is ready to prepare you for a leadership career as a primary care provider

Accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Higher Learning Commission, the online MSN-FNP from Walsh University offers flexibility, affordability, and clinical placement services. 

Prepare to build strong nursing teams with an online MSN-FNP.