Interchangeable Parts or Empowered Actors?

During the debrief following the video on our first day, we discussed the importance of everyone stepping up. We identified this work in medicine as a “team sport,” where all members must work together, communicating clearly, and having the power to take ownership of the tasks ahead. This is crucial in the provision of effective patient care, and it is unfortunate that these often-considered “soft skills” are minimized or absent from medical education and practice.

We also highlighted industries such as military and aviation, where teams also taking on high-risk yet different scenarios must work together and do so effectively. They minimize risk, keep clients safe, and experience nearly no adverse effects. In these industries, members of teams are conceptualized as interchangeable parts – cogs in the machine/part of the assembly line – yet also intelligent actors with capacity and power to step up.

Our conversations hinted at this idea that we want to empower all involved individuals, considered parts of teams, via institutional or structural mechanisms. Despite these, however, individuals will only feel confidence and support to do so as members of teams if teams are truly teams. We did not discuss the forces allowing for effective versus non-effective teams explicitly, but one of the major considerations is building relationships and seeing people as people. It is not enough to simply see an other person as an “other,” but rather as an essential partner in achieving a common aim. Building rapport, trust, and understanding is most significantly fostered through relationship. However, our educational programs do not reconcile this with the fact that depth of relationship cannot be encouraged if teams are constantly changing.

During the teeter-totter exercise today, we learned that a team from a previous camp spent all night after failing practicing and drilling, refining their technique so they could complete the task safely and efficiently under 7 minutes the next morning. What we tend to value is the relationship, not the techniques/approach that allow people to work together and achieve these outcomes.

In aviation and the military, effectiveness is not achieved via long-term relationship, yet it is seen as the holy grail in this work. Why is it different here? Instead, our future efforts should also consider the importance of tools to understand how we come across to others, common roles each individual falls into when working in teams (called role suctioning), and how to stabilize the changes of teams. I hope we get a chance to talk about how these other techniques and dimensions, such as personality, learning styles, and strengths, influence teams of any combination of individuals.