“Far and away the best prize that life offers is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”  – Theodore Roosevelt

Life and work seem like a constant struggle sometimes and every so often we all wonder whether staying the course is worth it.  But there are moments when everything comes into focus, a higher purpose illuminates the path, and the struggle becomes worthwhile.   A breakthrough improvement team effort can have a tremendous effect on an organization, yet it is on the human level of staff team members that its impact might be most profound.

This epiphany hit the other day after I calculated the new revenues created by a clinical improvement team at 4 clinics owned by a mountain hospital.  This is a rural CAH that had been struggling with falling patient volumes for more than a year, as the practices fought with their new EMR and staff began to fight with each other.  Wait times for new patients were approaching a month and working climate in the clinics had degenerated.  Hospital leaders were exhorting providers and staff to increase their productivity, but things weren’t improving.  Many docs and staff seemed near the end of their ropes and patient sat scores were steadily dropping as interactions with the clinic became less and less pleasant.

Starting a project like this elicits an uncomfortable mixture of excitement and terror.   The path is unclear and the rubber is firmly on the road; when admonitions of, “it’s the process not the people,” “problems are good because they provide an avenue to improvement,” and “the team is greater than any one member,” all must come into focus and manifest in results.   And making it more poignant are the expectations, friendships, the hopes and dreams, the families and the careers that hinge on the success of the team’s work.

As the numbers took shape, trepidation transformed into a euphoric joy which seems brand new every time. New patient volumes from just the first 2 docs I calculated will result in enough new revenue to have a tremendous impact on the sustainability of the hospital and community as a whole.  Across the 18 providers in the 4 practices the results will be transformational.  This is the kind of result that makes it all worthwhile.

But the most profound realization was that each staff member on the team must have the same jubilant feeling. We set our goals together, worked the process together, struggled with uncertainty together, and can now revel together in the knowledge that due to our team success we made a huge difference in the lives of thousands of patients and staff.

These results weren’t due to magic, luck or the special abilities of any one individual.   This is the kind of extraordinary result a group of caring individuals can achieve when they come together as a team, learn a few tools, and are entrusted to improve the work they do every day. By inclusion on the team, clinic staff felt respected by the hospital and that trust forged a bond that enabled them to achieve something no one individual knew how to do.

Sure, the tools and new thinking the team learned will be useful to them in the future, yet the thing that is most lasting is the new competence each team member will feel in their work and in his or her life.  There is no better way to connect staff to the mission of your organization than to empower them with the skills they need to become high performers.  This euphoria gave me a big boost and I am sure everyone who served on the team will walk with a new bounce and a smile for quite some time.   If you are trying to revitalize your culture, this is the kind of success that can energize staff and make it worth coming to work every day!