August 27, 2021

From Dysfunction to High Function: Traits of High-Performing Healthcare Teams

Clinician Leadership | Leadership Development | Team Development

Reading Time: 3 minutes

“Matt” is a transplant surgeon who leads the startup of a transplant program for a large regional healthcare system. In two years, he recruited a “dream team” of experienced surgeons and support staff who have achieved the 10 organ transplant thresholds for livers and kidneys to qualify for CMS participation. It’s been a steep learning curve, compounded by the delays of the Covid pandemic, but they’ve crested the mountain they’ve been climbing and are now officially in business.

But Matt senses that his leadership approach during the startup phase may need to change as the program enters its mature growth stage. He decides to engage an executive coach to facilitate a two-day offsite for himself and his three key leaders. We call this Team Coaching.

Faux or real teamwork?

As coaches, we frequently encounter groups of smart people, many who have worked together for years, who refer to themselves as a “team.” But they turn out to be more of a group of people who work in the same place but have yet to acquire the attributes of a true team. A group of people who meet in the same conference room every Monday afternoon is not necessarily a team. What’s the difference?

Think for a moment about the best team experience you’ve ever had. It may have been on a sports team in school, a clinical team in your fellowship, or even a team going on a short-term mission trip overseas. What did it feel like? How did people talk on the team? Was it fun? What made it so?

We believe that leadership is the exercise of influence, flowing through relationships just as electricity flows through a wire, for the purpose of co-creating coordinated movement by a group of people toward a shared goal. In the realm of healthcare, professional work is rarely accomplished by anyone alone. It requires two or more people to coordinate and cooperate to get things done.

Making a group a team

We believe one of the best models for understanding what makes a group a team is found in Patrick Lencioni’s modern day classic, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It’s a leadership parable, the story of a new CEO who takes her inherited leadership team on a two-day offsite session. She discovers what we’ve all experienced: a group of smart leaders who are at odds with each other, operating in their silos and producing lackluster results. By defining the five specific “dysfunctions” present, the author turns each one right-side up to demonstrate how a high-performing team functions.


Lencioni’s model is simple to understand yet not easy to accomplish. It serves as the scaffolding for our approach to Team Coaching.

Improving outcomes with coaching

Coaching helps adults apply new information to change how they think and behave, now. New information that is immediately put into practice to creates new habits and practices that can produce better results.

We believe Coaching and Training are different. Training is well-suited to learning new information in a didactic manner. But it has its limitations. How many times have you attended a seminar and come away with a notebook of exciting new ideas you can’t wait to apply back at work? But when you get back on Monday morning, you encounter the whirlwind all too characteristic of life at work. That exciting notebook of ideas and all the good intentions it represents gradually migrates to the bookshelf in your office to gather dust.

In the next installment of this series, we’ll review the foundation of what makes a team great: Trust.

Begin the conversation

Share this!

About the author

Eric P. Norwood, LFACHE, PCC

Eric P. Norwood, LFACHE, PCC is a trusted, experienced advisor to C-Suite leaders, helping them improve their performance individually and corporately. He is a catalyst for change for his clients.

Related content