Team Intelligence in Action

I’ve been thinking a lot more lately about the concepts of Emotional Intelligence and Team Intelligence, which is something I’ve written about in First Do Less Harm: Confronting the Inconvenient Problems in Patient Safety.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine was presenting a lecture on teamwork and conflict resolution with a group that teaches emotional intelligence.  Her experience confirmed my view that to make patients safe, produce an effective product — whether it be in healthcare or anywhere else — and be cost effective, emotional intelligence is not enough.  It may be required, but to stop at emotional intelligence neglects what it really takes to make an effective team — particularly when it comes to patient safety.  As I’ve written elsewhere, people can be emotionally intelligent –.i.e very attentive to their own feelings, motivation, self-regulation etc.  They can also be very attentive  to the feelings of others.  Yet they can still fail to have what it takes to build a team and work on a team.  In the case of health care this is critical because we know that 75 to 85% of preventable patient deaths and injuries are due to failures in teamwork and communication not failures in technical knowledge or competence.  In other words if you don’t have team intelligence, patients die or are injured and this, of course, directly effects the healthcare bottom line, both at an institutional and system wide level.

In the case of my friend’s work with this company, the people she supposedly collaborated with, were very attentive to her feelings, were constantly taking her emotional temperature, and inquired consistently about how she “felt” about what was about to happen.  Problem was, they failed to share critical information with her, were unable to work with her to create a shared mental model of the event they were working on, and if and when they tried to find out what she “felt” about this or that plan or proposal (which rarely happened) they completely ignored her input.  She and her co-presenter were unable to compromise, because in order to reach a compromise, everyone has to know what is on the table, who is going to participate, what the parameters are, etc.  While everyone she worked with had a robust concept of emotional intelligence, they entirely lacked any concept of team intelligence.

What is TI?  As I define it, Team Intelligence is the active capacity of each individual member of the Team to think ,learn, teach, communicate, and reason together, irrespective of position in any hierarchy, in the service of realizing shared goals and a shared mission.  Team Intelligence can be mastered in a way that allows people to work together over time or to form quick teams of people who have never worked together.

My friend explained that as a result of this lack of TI, the presentation was not as effective as it should have been and she decided never to work with this group again.  In this particular case, the result was the rupture and curtailment of what might have been a promising professional relationship.  In healthcare, when groups of people lack TI, the result is far more serious: patients die unnecessarily; they suffer preventable injuries: and health care costs continue to escalate.  All of this is tragic since, as we’ve learned from the aviation industry, TI can be taught, and can be learned and can significantly enhance safety.



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