How to Transform Your Culture to Build Effective Teams

According to Bryan Warren, orthopedic manufacturers often use the term “culture” as a trendy buzzword, but professionals within the companies fail to grasp what it means and how it applies to their work specifically. “We claim that culture eats strategy for breakfast, but we rarely explore what culture really is or how to build it,” said Warren.

Warren is the President of J3Personica, a training and development company that primarily advises physicians and healthcare executives on ways to become more effective leaders. He previously worked at Zimmer Orthopaedics. Now, Warren is at the forefront of a movement to improve healthcare by teaching communication and personality strategies that typically aren’t prioritized in traditional treatment and innovation settings. The culture principles that he teaches surgeons and hospital executives can be applied throughout the orthopedic chain.

“Creating effective teams and building a culture of collaboration is really hard in healthcare, and orthopedic device companies are no exception,” said Warren, who advises that culture has to be more than a sign on an office wall.

Warren believes the first step companies need to take toward transforming the culture of their teams is to define the one that already exists. “The best definition of culture is how we go about our business. It’s how you solve problems and treat each other.” Specifically, Warren trains teams to critically think about the behaviors they overtly and subconsciously reward or discourage as a method for understanding what needs to change.

After one takes an unflinching look at the habits, rituals and patterns that occur within their teams and themselves, they can begin to do the hard work of focusing on specific behaviors they want to see embraced in their routines, as well as those they want to leave behind. “What are the behaviors that we’re looking for? We want to treat each other with respect. We want to solve problems in ways that align with our values. If you say you value your people, there will come a time when supporting them comes in conflict with short-term financial gain. What will you do?” Warren said.

Transforming vague notions of culture into actionable standards is what Warren calls “operational culture.” Organizations are only able to reshape the culture of their teams when they implement structural changes that reinforce desired behaviors and discourage negative ones. “Culture has to be front and center of your decision-making process,” he said. “That’s how you operationalize it and make it real.”

In an industry that traditionally prioritizes intelligence, correcting culture often means rehauling systems to make interpersonal skills like communication, respect, trust and patience more visible and expected within teams. To address culture in a meaningful way, Warren said some organizations would be forced to make tough decisions. “In healthcare, you can’t talk about culture if you’re disruptive and aren’t a team player, but your employer still keeps you. Toyota would never do that. We have a bad habit of saying we value culture, but still let bad actors stick around because they generate revenue.”

Orthopedic leaders can’t retain their values and turn a blind eye to bad behavior, Warren said. “Are you willing to make tough decisions? We’ve been encouraging organizations to designate a Chief Culture Officer like they do in other industries. This is the person at the meeting that says, ‘Wait a minute, the path you’re going down is not in line with the culture we defined last week.’ ”

A critical aspect of fixing culture is the importance of thoughtfully building teams, an exercise Warren believes isn’t widely discussed. “If you and I are partners in the Navy SEALs, I’m more concerned that I can trust you rather than what skills you have. Do you want a partner with the best skills in the unit, or do you want a person you can trust? Healthcare has always gone with this idea that if we put all the smartest people together, we’ll have a good team, but that just doesn’t work. We tell all those smart people that their job is to be right all the time. Put some of them in the same room together, and you can guess how their meetings go.”

Breaking down the psychology of effective teams is essential for sustaining a positive work culture, said Warren, who explains that the reflection and humility it takes to be a team player is often at odds with how orthopedic surgeons and entrepreneurs were educated. “We have to teach them why teams matter, and that doing so is the most effective way for them to do what they want to accomplish. Most have never been told this, so it’s often a lightbulb moment when they hear it,” he said.

Warren claimed that he’s witnessed sweeping changes in organizations that have made an effort to advance their culture through team-building. “Once you give them the skills, all of a sudden, they’re able to function really well,” he said.

Altering team culture can be an arduous and long journey that may be met by some with resistance. But organizations that are successful in this approach benefit from more harmonious and productive work environments.

Patrick McGuire is an ORTHOWOLRD Contributor.

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