Let’s not wait for another crisis to reinvent how we work together

Karin Tenelius Karin Tenelius February 24, 2021

At a recent virtual afterwork hangout, my colleague Lotta told me about an interesting conversation she had overheard between two of her friends who work at different care units. They were discussing how the covid-19 pandemic had forced their departments to reinvent how they were run. What really captured Lotta’s interest was hearing how engagement soared when levels of ownership, trust and self-management rose, and what that achieved. I became so interested that I asked Lotta to arrange a Zoom meeting with one of her friends, the chief physician at a hospital who we will call A, to hear more.

A is an experienced chief physician, with a long career in health care, who works at a hospital where leadership and organisation work well. Despite this, everyone was amazed at the enormous commitment and productivity that arose when the employees were given the freedom to develop ways to quickly change the department to be able to provide good care to a large number of Covid-19 patients. Creative self-directed initiatives started popping up, without any specific instructions from managers, such as the creation of instructional videos and memos made to disseminate important information across teams. Quick, informal and unconventional actions could be taken to remove barriers and create more innovative ways of working, which unleashed volumes of potential.

Changing a department is a big process and everyone involved was amazed at how much could be achieved in such a short time, compared to how long it usually takes to effect change under normal circumstances. A is now interested in what can be learnt from this explosion of enthusiasm and how they can maintain it.

“We thought that people’s fear could result in sick leave but that did not happen; the spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm was what characterised the atmosphere despite the challenging and frightening situation.”

A explained, “During ordinary change processes, dissatisfaction can easily arise, but now everyone is so happy with what we achieved together. We thought that people’s fear could result in sick leave but that did not happen; the spirit of cooperation and enthusiasm was what characterised the atmosphere despite the challenging and frightening situation.”

“It was a true example of teamwork where hierarchy was set aside and people were set free of the confines of their job description and allowed to innovate and work to their strengths.”

A reflected on this experience, “It was a true example of teamwork where hierarchy was set aside and people were set free of the confines of their job description and allowed to innovate and work to their strengths. The nurses say that the doctors were less scattered and more present, which gave a sense of security in their lives.”

A now feels that even more trust can be given to employees and some processes can be simplified.

My reflection after talking to A, is that the crisis situation combined with greater freedom of action created a feeling of “it depends on me” which meant that all this potential and capacity was released within the individual. I also know that this can be created without a crisis situation. It can be achieved with a style of leadership where the task, responsibility and powers lie with those who “are” the business. I just hope that those at the top of the care pyramids have seen these phenomena, and are learning from them, just as A and her colleagues are doing now.