Leadership Stories: The Operating Room Team

Learn from Observing High-Performance Teams

I had cataract surgery recently, first the left eye and, a week later, the right eye. I was anxious both times, even though the doctor and the hospital both had stellar reputations. What I experienced both times was great. It was a high-performance team in action.

Every touchpoint was demonstrating excellence in engagement and in performance. I had the distinct impression that each person liked what they were doing. Each person was aware that their contribution made a difference.

Each person functioned at their best regardless – each person was focused, calm, and skilled. As the surgery progressed, I became calm and developed trust. I was able to deal with my anxiety, partly due to the functioning of the team. I remained responsible for my own feelings, actions, and thoughts – the high-functioning team helped me do that by caring and not distracting me from the mission at hand.

There is an obvious healthy relationship between the hospital team and the doctor. She said to me that she is very happy that the team is dependable.

I don’t know the internal dynamics of this team. That’s not important. The important thing is that they performed at a very high level when it mattered – with my surgery.

So much of the energy used by leaders is in worrying about controlling the results and trying to control everything. The more we as leaders over function, the more others on the team under function. In this case, with the surgery procedure, there are mandated standards for compliance. The team members were responsible for their compliance, so the doctor could give me her full attention.

What I experienced in two visits (one for each eye) was a live demonstration that the principles for a high-functioning team are applicable to most teams. Transformational Leadership was defined as a style of leadership by Burns and Bass in the 80s, and came from education and the military. Both of these types of organizations must have high standards. Both of these types of organizations rehearse excellence regularly. Both of these types of organizations are committed to getting it right the first time and, typically, don’t get a second chance.

Does your high-functioning team have the following traits?

  • Clarity of mission
  • Defined standards of excellence
  • Commitment to specific outcomes
  • Regular “rehearsals” for maintaining the high standards
  • Buy-in from each participant
  • Relationships within the team
  • Relationship from the team to the “client”
  • Visible signs that team members actually care

I am inspired by experiences like this one. What inspires you to a higher standard of leadership excellence?

The hospital: LewisGale Montgomery, Scott Hill, CEO

The doctor: Dr. Parisa Farhi

Watch this TED presentation by Daniel Pink for a different paradigm on team leadership.

Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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Hugh Ballou (Author)