Is it necessary for my facility to have a process improvement team before it will see significant beneficial results in my facility's quality improvement processes?

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Processes can probably be redesigned by management fiat, but, in many cases, that will guarantee failure. It is better to convene a team to work on a process because:

  • Including frontline staff ensures that you get a real-life and deeper view of the process as it is actually implemented—not as it may be described in policies and procedures.
  • Including a variety of people improves the chances that you’ll get creative ideas.
  • Sharing the effort among departments and management/staff levels builds commitment to the analysis and recommendations.
  • In busy hierarchical organizations—characteristics typical of healthcare delivery—there is a tendency for each department to focus exclusively on its own goals and to fail to build a sense of shared process. Teamwork helps to break down these barriers and improves performance much beyond one effort; it contributes to an overall improved culture of quality and improvement throughout the organization.

Teams differ from traditional committees and task forces in a couple of core ways. They are convened specifically to research a problem or opportunity with open minds and to contribute unique individual expertise. A team is never convened to build a consensus around a predefined outcome—that may be the function of a committee or other group but not a process improvement team.

Teams tend to be more egalitarian than traditional committees and task forces. Each member of the team has been selected for personal knowledge of the process being improved and is expected to contribute advice, ideas, and creative perspectives.

Teams tend to go through interpersonal developmental stages that can be challenging. Relationships are more important in a group conducting a creative, shared investigation than they are in a hierarchically driven committee.

Cynthia Barnard, MBA, MSJS, CPHQ

(October 2010)