Mobile Menu Icon

Teaming ahead

11 June 2018

What conditions are fundamental to successful innovation? How can organisations, cities and even whole nations tackle seemingly insurmountable, complex challenges? Dr Claire Kenwood, Medical Director at Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, considers the importance of “teaming”, what it means and how it’s working in Leeds.

Today’s global challenges – sourcing sustainable food and energy supplies, protecting the natural environment, and addressing the health needs of ageing populations whose expectations of health and care provision are growing exponentially – are both unprecedented and huge in scale.

We know business as usual is not an option. We must innovate, and that means innovation in how we work, not just the work we do.

According to Harvard Business School’s Amy C. Edmondson, ‘to succeed in a global economy, organisations must be able to learn’.[1] Each of us, each professional discipline, each organisation (and perhaps even each nation) must be aware of its interdependence with others for accomplishing whole tasks.

In other words, innovation through collaboration.

Yet as challenges become more broad and complex, expertise is narrowing. Edmondson proposes that the solution lies in changing the way we think, structure work and collaborate. In doing so, the concept of team must transfer from noun to verb, positioning teaming as the essential, dynamic force needed. Edmondson explains that teaming is an active process, not a static entity. It demands being able to relate to people and remaining vigilant of and being able to integrate their needs, perspectives and roles. It demands development of both feeling and thinking skills.

Enabled by distributed leadership, its purpose is to expand knowledge and expertise to benefit the organizations and their customers. But, says Edmondson, that doesn’t mean the need for strong leadership is fading – the opposite is true to enable risk-taking, crossing boundaries and confronting failure.’[2]

Teaming can help reframe how challenges are addressed across organisations, cities, regions and national/international geographies. To develop the right frame for this, leaders must work together to build a truly shared vision and a climate that is psychologically safe – one where people can explore differences, take risks and build on differing perspectives.

Edmondson references the extraordinary teaming effort spanning physical, organizational, cultural, geographic and professional boundaries in the story of the Chilean mine rescue where 33 lives were saved against all the odds and ‘expert’ predictions.

In a less dramatic but equally fundamental example, Kenneth Lutchen, Dean of Boston University’s College of Engineering, explores why companies and universities should forge new collaborations. He explains that they increasingly want a relationship model – a durable, cooperative model that bridges the cultural divide.

‘At my institution, we have built our program around the concept of creating “societal engineers” who are dedicated to using their engineering foundation to improve society. Instead of diverging over whether the highest priority should be profit or knowledge for the sake of knowledge, companies and universities can come together around shared notions of the common good.’

Closer to home, a new model of working in the NHS is described as teaming without walls to achieve large scale transformational and cultural change, emphasising the importance of developing strong relationships.

The Leeds Academic Health Partnership (LAHP) emerged from the acknowledgement that citywide collaboration, regardless of organisational boundaries, was essential to building on the strengths and realising the ambitions of the city.

In what is one of the largest partnerships of its kind in the UK, we are already seeing dynamic learning, collaboration and decision making starting to bring about innovation in our health and care system. So are we teaming? We are certainly creating the environment to foster teaming and to take it from concept to cultural norm, from the exception to the rule.

For example, in recent partnership discussions about the ground-breaking work of our new Leeds Centre for Personalised Medicine and Health in being able to predict the likelihood of individuals developing certain illnesses, we considered the psycho-social impact explaining the test results may have on them …

With our diverse range of experts around the table, we identified the need for clinicians to understand the potential psychological and therefore associated physical impact on different patients of how the predictive test results are explained. We agreed that to achieve impact and improved outcomes, personalised medicine must also be personable and engaging, blending science and psychology – in other words, Edmondson’s ‘thinking and feeling’ skills.

As we prepare to launch the new Leeds Health and Care Academy, we recognise it will provide an unprecedented opportunity to bring together a range of these specialist skills – personalised medicine, mental healthcare and sociological aspects – and embed them in its learning and training programmes.

The Academy is born out of the extraordinary collaboration across the LAHP to transform the landscape of learning for the 57,000 strong health and care workforce in Leeds. It goes further than collaboration across the NHS and the local authority to include the involvement of our universities. Their world-leading evidence and research base will inform the Academy curriculum to help develop the very best skills to enable our practitioners to provide the best possible care for the people of Leeds. But just as important, it will help those who study to work in Leeds to forge the relationships that will enable them to bridge boundaries and integrate care.

As recently announced, the LAHP is also part of a select, small team from Leeds to join a prestigious leadership programme run by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), one of the world’s top universities. This two-year Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (REAP) provides expert, evidence-based guidance for teams to bring about significant economic and social change in their region.

Comprising senior representatives from diverse organisations – the private sector, the NHS, the City Council, higher education and the inward investment agency – will this illustrate Leeds City Region teaming?

With these dynamic examples emerging, it’s exciting to propose that Leeds is simply steaming – or ‘teaming’ ahead, our challenge being to keep our team members’ eyes on our common goal alongside a relentless focus on the relationships that will make it all work.

[1] Teaming, Amy C. Edmonson, (Jossey-Bass, 2012), p1.

[2] Teaming, p2 – 4.


Back to Blog