CLN - Bench Matters

Five Tips for Building a High-Performing Team

Bench Matters: April 2023

Jaime Noguez, PhD, DABCC

Laboratorians in lab coats putting their hands in the center

Clinical labs across the country face a never-ending stream of obstacles, from maintaining testing services during the pandemic to circumventing constant supply-chain disruptions and combating talent attrition from the lab medicine workforce. One way that labs can position themselves to respond to these complex challenges more swiftly and effectively is by creating high-performing teams. A high-performing work team is a group of goal-oriented individuals with specialized technical expertise and complementary skills who innovate and cooperate to achieve consistently exceptional outcomes. Investing time in creating and developing these teams has never been more vital for clinical labs that are trying to make the most of their limited resources.

Building a high-performing team requires more than just pulling together a group of talented individuals to work on a common project. Among other requirements, it entails identifying the strengths of each team member, selecting a group that will work well together based on their complementary skills and attributes, and aligning shared values to build change upon common ground. Thankfully, there is a lot of research into how teams function best and what makes them perform most efficiently and productively.

The clinical labs at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center long have realized the power of collaboration, and teamwork is a fundamental component of our organization’s success. In recent years, we have refined our approach to developing and nurturing key traits, behaviors, and best practices in our teams that allow us to consistently rise to meet challenges and goals. There are five key strategies that we use to foster high-performing partnerships and to empower our teams to operate at the highest level.

Select Team Members Based on Talent, Skills, and Shared Values

When recruiting for a high-performing team, consider what each individual member will bring to the table. Members should be able to perform independently but also work well together to achieve their collective goals. By selecting team members who have unique skills, strengths, and perspectives, we can leverage their abilities to make the strongest team possible.

One of the most important things we look for in potential members is shared values, such as integrity, work ethic, and open communication. Alignment of these values positively influences group dynamics and contributes to building cohesive and successful teams.

Create a Shared Sense of Purpose

We find that employees feel most connected to each other and are more engaged when they have a unified purpose: an understanding of how their job fits into the larger context of the institutional mission. In our teams, we try to foster a purpose-driven culture from the start by clearly articulating a shared vision to motivate the group and align their focus towards a common objective. Then, we often create mission statements or charters to guide our efforts.

Establish Well-Defined Goals, Roles, and Responsibilities

It is important to set your teams up for success by clearly defining goals and each member’s role in achieving them. By providing clarity of purpose and not allowing roles to be general or vague, we are able to reduce confusion, stress, and time wasted on nonessential tasks that distract from those that really matter. Well-defined goals and roles also promote accountability, further increasing the team’s potential.

Empower Team Members With Decision-Making Authority

Another way that we supercharge our teams is by empowering them to make the decisions required to achieve their goals. Giving team members decision-making authority in their domains increases their sense of ownership in the project and overall job satisfaction. It also drives productivity and accountability. Once the team has clear goals, we find that setting up several touchpoints with the team leader along the way provides guardrails for empowerment. It gives them the confidence to make the decisions necessary to keep projects on track without requiring constant supervision.

Communicate Frequently and Effectively

Setting up effective lines of communication is key to the success of any team. High-performing teams have a system in place to optimize communication so that all members remain on the same page. We try to establish a communication process early on in our team building to ensure that important information is shared with the right people in a timely manner, that everyone understands their responsibilities within the context of the larger project, and that nothing falls through the cracks. By communicating frequently, we ensure that we are progressing as expected and that our working environment is agile. It also provides an opportunity to share constructive feedback in real time. We also encourage team members to be clear and concise when communicating to keep our conversations relevant and productive.

At University Hospital we have found that a focus on developing and sustaining well-functioning teams has allowed us to build resilience and more easily adapt to the rapidly changing healthcare environment. Our employees have a restored sense of control in uncertain times and show increased confidence that we can overcome new obstacles.

We will continue our journey toward reshaping our clinical laboratory workforce and hope that these tips for cultivating high-performing teams can help other laboratories get started.

Jaime Noguez, PhD, DABCC, is an assistant professor of pathology at Case Western Reserve University, and medical director of chemistry and toxicology at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center.

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