Catch debate fever at your facility

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by Shelley Cohen, RN, BS, CEN

Most of your staff members are probably keeping an ear tuned to the presidential prospects for the upcoming election. With this in mind, many will be listening to and watching the debates between both the presidential and vice presidential hopefuls. This is a wonderful opportunity for nurse leaders to take advantage of debate fever and relate it to the workplace.

The structured debate can serve as a springboard for initiating change, implementing evidence-based practices, or even defining unacceptable behaviors for a department. When staff have an opportunity to hear the pros and cons, as they do in a debate, they learn how to validate their needs. A controlled, professional, yet fun, environment of presenting both sides is what the debate process has to offer. Examples include debating changes in holiday scheduling, or how patients are assigned.
Use of the debate process provides staff:

  • An opportunity to become actively involved in processes
  • A reason to want to become more engaged in how patient care is delivered
  • Knowledge of successful debate strategies, which improves their confidence
  • Skills to negotiate approaches to patient care with staff members

The debate processes teaches the leader and their staff:

  • That it is ok to agree to disagree
  • How to actively listen to other opinions
  • Examples of applying critical thinking

To get into the debate mode, start with these steps:

  1. Provide the staff a list of current practice issues and have them vote on the two issues of greatest concern to them
  2. Post the date you will be holding the debate (in place of a staff meeting) in emails, on bulletin boards, or both
  3. Invite someone from fiscal services and administration to evaluate the debate
  4. Display a poster of five keys to effective debates for one week
  5. Post Web sites where staff can learn more about debating, such as
  6. Have staff select one peer who will oversee/facilitate the debate and develop the ground rules for the debate
  7. Provide a debate worksheet to get them started

And lastly, the points and goals for the debate process include:

  1. Allow staff to present two sides of a proposal and be tolerant and accepting of different viewpoints.
  2. Teach them why the fiscal implications have to be addressed (when appropriate).
  3. There is no "winner" in these types of debates-except, of course, for the patient.
  4. The observers vote on who presented the most credible evidence for their cause along with a cost analysis (if finances are involved).
  5. A manager could elect to attach some type of reward to the proposal that gets approved. If you decide to use this approach, keep the reward fun and simple. Examples include cafeteria certificates, car wash coupons, or an item from their favorite things list.

This collaborative process teaches staff tolerance for others and their ideas. In addition, the next time they come knocking on your door wanting something for the department, you can bring their suggestion to the debate table for all to participate.

When debate fever spreads and catches on, organizational leadership can take advantage of this momentum for organizational change. Develop house wide debate teams to present options related to implementation of upcoming changes. Representatives from departments could even work together on the same team.