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Teamwork allows everyone's unique skills to flourish

Tina Ambury
Vice Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners

The concept of "teamwork not tribalism" was raised by Sally Irvine and Hilary Haman in their book Spotlight on General Practice.(1) It's a concept to ponder when thinking about general practice and primary care.

The Oxford English Dictionary has several definitions for teamwork:

  • Work done with a team of beasts.
  • The combined action of a team of players.
  • Work done by a team of operatives.
  • Work done by persons working as a team, ie, with concerted effort.

Apart from the first, all of these apply to general practice and primary care. Put simply, teamwork is people doing something together. But why stop there?
GPs have the potential to work in many teams, starting with the one taking part in the consultation. For what is the patient if not an integral member of the team addressing their own healthcare need?
Of course we all know about the teams at work in our practices and across primary care. But what of those teams we become members of only on occasion? The team organising transfer to and from hospital, or the team at work protecting vulnerable children in our areas?
All these teams require skills - the most important being the recognition that all members of the team have a valid contribution to make and any team leader should be chosen for their skills, not on position alone.
The art of being a good team player is knowing where you fit in the team. What unique skills do you bring to the mix? Equally important is knowing when to step back and allow another team member to perform.
As general practice develops, the provision of quality healthcare becomes increasingly team-dependent. A high-quality service needs high-quality, well- performing teams to deliver the goods. No one is indispensable. Yet everyone has unique skills that should be allowed to flourish. Teamworking enables this.
What is required are teams that function efficiently, effectively and respect the contribution of all members to the "something" that the team is doing together.
Teamworking is not handing the something over for someone else to do. Nor is it a way of downshifting the task to a less skilled worker on the "escalator".
General practice is not about "me" keeping "my" work for myself because no-one else could possibly do it as well. Teamworking simply means that the work "I" do is that which I am best skilled to do. And by working in a team, I increase the scope of my skills.
The challenge for the future is not simply making teams work; it is in valuing all who work in those teams, including patients, rather than assigning tasks according to job title or available workforce.
General practice is not a collection of tribal workers - it is a nation whose tribes work together to provide the best possible care for our patients.
So let's hear it for the team!

Reference

  1. Irvine S, Haman H, Pringle M. Spotlight on General Practice. Oxford: Radcliffe Medical Press; 2001.