What Imaging Leaders Should Know About Teamwork

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The following is not a trick question: What does the US Army’s legendary 82nd Airborne Division have in common with today’s medical-imaging profession? On the surface, probably not a lot; beneath the surface, however, I’ve seen quite a bit that our profession can learn from the focus, precision, and ethos of one of the finest US organizations. This is especially true when one considers that in order to accomplish its national-security mission, this group requires supremely refined teamwork for even the most minute of its tasks.

First, the backstory: I am fortunate enough to belong to an organization of like-minded executives who share the honor of visiting selected US Department of Defense facilities, inside and outside the country, for the purpose of understanding their respective missions, as they apply to today’s national-security interests. It’s pretty amazing, and it’s eye-opening on many levels. On a recent trip, we visited Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and spent some up-close-and-personal time with the 82nd Airborne, even flying in a C-130 with paratroopers to witness, at first hand, how they do what they do.

What help can the 82nd Airborne provide medical-imaging executives engaged in a real battle for survival? It is no secret that forces have emerged that have challenged the resourcefulness and capabilities of many practitioners, whether they are operating in hospital settings, private practices, or outpatient centers. The profession is, quite literally, under siege.

What, then, can we learn from how the 82nd Airborne does its job? In a word, teamwork: Everyone in the 82nd Airborne knows his or her role and how this role relates to the overall vision and mission of the organization. Each individual is perfectly aligned with these goals, and each understands and shares the core values that drive the team toward perfection. It’s amazing that even the tasks that seem the simplest are checked and rechecked, and they are supported by an array of specialists whose skills combine to form a unit that is formidable in the face of adversity. Each team member knows how he or she fits within the mission, and each understands the contribution that he or she makes to the overall success of the task. The team members know that they rely on one another’s professionalism and focus—they are truly interdependent.

Unfortunately, in many practices and hospitals that I’ve seen, such teamwork does not exist. In fact, the narcissism-breeding culture of the individual is a historical ethos within specialized medicine that works against the very notions of alliance, partnership, and teamwork. That is not to say that good teams do not exist in health care; there are certainly role-model organizations that set examples, but I believe that we have quite a long way to go before teamwork is a universally accepted and applied idea. This is especially true when one considers how specialists compete for patient interventions based on which body part or disease state is involved and which of many diagnostic/therapeutic options is most convincing (if not necessarily most efficacious).

Nonetheless, it is crystal clear that in order to succeed in tomorrow’s medical-imaging profession, organizations will need to embrace lessons from professions familiar with the leadership and teamwork models that build excellence—and, in turn, success. The US corporate environment, developing since the industrial revolution, has reached a point where many of these lessons can be found, and in my opinion, today’s modern US military is a shining example of such excellence.

How can you apply some of these lessons and prepare your practice, hospital, or center for the future?

First, reach out and find those shining examples from industry and the military that you can apply to your enterprise. Second, align the stakeholders around this shared sense of purpose. Third, clearly articulate your vision so that everyone will understand how he or she can contribute to its realization. Fourth, bring clarity to the competitive posture and value proposition that you take to your customers. Fifth, hold everyone accountable (including yourself, as the leader) for the focused accomplishment of the goals and objectives that will ensure the success of your organization. Sixth, compete to win.

Don’t expect anything to be handed to you on a platter, and build a team that will want to follow you—even to the point of being willing to parachute into harm’s way to fight the battle